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  1. ITV Report

Birth Centre Birthday

Baby born at Maidstone Birthing Unit Photo: ITV Meridian

Caleb Thompson is one year old, the same as the birthing centre where he was born. In fact, he was the first baby to be born here; his parents say the experience was excellent:

"Really calm, really natural, really reassuring, just absolutely brilliant yes. Cannot fault anything about it." says mum Beth.

The midwife-led birthing unit at Maidstone Hospital was opened after consultant maternity services were moved to the new Tunbridge Wells hospital at Pembury. Cathy Warwick, who's Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, says parents-to-be shouldn't fear this division.

"A lot of women don't need full maternity services as in an obstetric unit in a large hospital. We know from very good evidence that women who are what we call low-risk, that is to say they've no problems in their pregnancy actually do as well in these kind of facilities."

But when the plans were announced, no amount of explanations calmed the angry backlash from locals, with thousands signing a petition for Downing Street, hundreds gathering at public meetings, and demonstrations outside County Hall. Now, a year after the centre opened, one of the lead campaigners has admitted things aren't actually as bad as he feared.

"Our campaign for retaining high quality core services in Maidstone Hospital will continue because it has many factors." says Dennis Fowle, Chairman of Maidstone Action for the Services in Hospital. "But certainly, having seen what I've seen today, I would no longer campaign against the birthing unit. I think it is a very satisfactory unit and I must say I'm very impressed."

Almost four hundred babies have been born here, more than double the predicted amount. Manager Sarah Gregson says that proves how popular the unit is - and that fears are misplaced.

"I think people are right to have concerns about safety but I think there's a lot of people who perhaps don't understand what research there is around nowadays that actually says facilities like this are safe."

Not all births are suitable for the centre, only those which are likely to be problem free. Two mums who've just given birth here think it was right for them.

"If you've got just a nice normal pregnancy you'd never choose a hospital environment over this."

"I think a lot of women have been reassured and I think there's more confidence in this place than there was at the beginning."

Watch the video report here: