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Last Updated: Friday, 12 July, 2002, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Where do the NHS billions go?
St George's Hospital Tooting
St George's is one of the country's busiest trusts
The government has spent billions on the NHS but some patients and staff say there is little sign of improvements.

BBC News Online visited one NHS trust to find out how it has spent some of the extra money it has received.

St George's Hospital in Tooting, South London, is part of one of the biggest and busiest NHS trusts in the country.

The hospital has more than 4,500 staff, an annual budget in excess of 200m, and serves a local population of more than a quarter of a million people.

What 800,000 bought
Upgrade of entire department
Improved security
New computers
New birthing pool
Sleep over facilities for fathers
Private bereavement suite

Last year, the hospital secured 800,000 from the Department of Health to modernise its maternity wards.

Built in the early 1980s, the wards were typical of the NHS - dark, dingy and dilapidated - with little money spent on decor in the previous two decades.

Angela Helleur, head of midwifery at St George's, said: "Like everywhere else in the NHS, there was little money for improving the hospital environment."

When Health Secretary Alan Milburn announced plans in May 2000 to give English hospitals 100m to modernise maternity departments, Ms Helleur and colleagues seized the opportunity with both hands.

What 2.2m could have bought
Upgrade of entire department
Extra beds
Ensuite facilities in all wards
Complete redesign of department
New transitional care unit

They asked the Department of Health for 2.2m to bring wards up-to-date. In the end, they received just 800,000 to be spent over two years.

"Of course, we would have liked 2.2m but we were happy with what we got," said Ms Helleur.

Under the original plans, the entire department would have been redesigned and every unit would have been upgraded.

Each ward would have had an ensuite bathroom, there would have been more beds and a new transitional care unit would have been established.

Ambitious but expensive

With a budget of 800,000 those ambitions had to be scaled down.

"We didn't get all of the money we wanted but we have spent the money well.

"We have stretched it and we are happy with what we have been able to do," Ms Helleur said.

The department has spent 400,000 so far. Work on upgrading the ante and post natal units is half way through. The number of single-bed rooms has increased from 10 to 14.

There are new facilities for fathers to allow them to stay the night. Toilets, kitchen and lounge areas have been drastically improved.

There is a new bereavement suite, a private room for parents who have lost their baby. Previously, they were forced to stay in a room on the post natal ward close to new mothers and their babies.

Community midwifes have also been given new computers to enable them to book appointments from outside the hospital.

By the time, the project is complete there will be a new robust security system, a new birthing pool and additional office and storage space.

Visible improvement

With the work only half way through, the contrast is striking.

The redecorated wards are bright, clean and spacious. The rest of the department is dreary and depressing. Work is due to start shortly on bringing it all up to standard.

Nevertheless, the improvements are already having an impact both on patients and staff.

"In the last year we have seen an improvement in our staff retention rates.

"Like everywhere else in the NHS we have recruitment problems but things are improving," said Ms Helleur.

"I am not saying that the modernisation project has achieved all of that but it does seem to have made a difference.

"Staff morale has improved and people are proud of the department. We have also had positive feedback from patients."

Certainly, the new-look department is a shining example of where some of the extra money the government has spent on the NHS is going.

However, it has come at a price. The 800,000 bill represents 10% of the hospital's entire spending on obstetrics last year.

Has it been money well spent? Patients and staff seem to think so and that, as far as the government is concerned is half the battle.

Money for maternity wards
11 Oct 01  |  England

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