VAL Clare believes there has never been such an exciting time to be Head of Midwifery at the Royal Bolton Hospital.

“I think we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve maternity services for the women who use them and for the staff involved,” she explained.

Her optimism is not based on wishful thinking but on initiatives that have come together to provide a solid base to both make a difference now and in the future.

None of this, of course, was in the mind of the young girl fascinated by pregnant women and growing babies through the 3D pages of the family encyclopaedia

“That was the start for me,” she said. “The beginning of wanting to be a midwife.”

That all occurred in Wishaw, 17 miles outside Glasgow, and where Val, now 53, was born and brought up. She left her local Garrion Academy to become a student nurse – then the only route to becoming a midwife. She did her general training at Law Hospital in Carluke and trained as a midwife at Bellshill Maternity Hospital.

She worked at Carluke Hospital before joining the William Smellie Maternity Hospital in Lanark before working at Wishaw General Hospital becoming a sister and then working as a community midwife.

An opportunity to move into management came her way when she was seconded to Glasgow and worked, with a Home Office grant, on helping refugees and asylum seekers. By studying their needs, Val became an expert in this field and, in particular, around Female Genital Mutilation.

“Midwives not only need to know more about FGM but even how to ask the initial question of women and then what to do about it,” she said. “It is a hidden phenomenon.”

This specialised knowledge gave her opportunities to speak at conferences and when she moved to Manchester with her husband Trevor’s job in engineering management 11 years ago, she also became involved with lecturing at the University of Manchester.

Her first job in her new home was in management at Stepping Hill Hospital at Stockport then she moved to Manchester’s St Mary’s Hospital as Deputy Head of Midwifery. A move to Whiston Hospital came next and then, when the job of Head of Midwifery at Bolton came up, she applied and began this post in June this year.

“This is a special time for maternity services,” she said. For a start, The Royal Bolton NHS Foundation Trust is the only trust in Greater Manchester to offer four different types of choices for women to give birth.

These include the Central Delivery Suite at the Princess Anne Maternity Unit, in a midwife-led department within the unit (formerly the Bolton Birth Suite), at the Trust’s new centre Ingleside set in Oakwood Park in Salford, and at home.

“Ingleside is a really lovely place with four rooms, each with a pool, there is music and a lovely atmosphere for the women to give birth,” said Val. “It was opened in April and it’s working really well. In fact, midwives on the Wirral have already used this template to open rooms in a children’s centre there.”

The Princess Anne Maternity Unit also provides neonatal intensive care so its staff also often care for women with difficult pregnancies. It is one of three main centres within Greater Manchester providing this specialist care.

Her own initiatives so far include new ideas to support midwives and streamline the service to help both staff and the women they care for.

“In general, I have three main priorities: the safety of the women, their experiences here and how the staff feel when they come into work,” said Val.

Local maternity units are part of a national move to drastically reduce stillbirths by 2025 and Val believes the current range of projects will work positively in that and several other directions.

She is a strong believer in women getting to know their midwife, or whoever is providing their care, and of having the opportunity of continuity of care. This thinking is also part of a national initiative which provides hubs of local midwives in the community and Val sees this tenet as pivotal to maternity services now and going forward.

As the mother of two children (and grandmother of a three-year-old), she recognises the importance of personalised care and welcomes it.

“We know that some women may have medical problems and we want to work around those,” she added. “We want to wrap the service around women as they need it.”