BARNSLEY Hospital’s new intensive care unit was unveiled to the Chronicle in an exclusive first-look event this week - but those behind the £7.3m transformation hope most people never need to see it...

The 68-week build programme officially ended on Tuesday when contractor Illingworth and Gregory handed over the facility back to the hospital.

A former office block - which was deemed underused on the Gawber site that’s been starved of space to expand - has been demolished away from the public’s attention to make way for the ground-up build.

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First mooted as far back as 2010, leaders behind the project - which has drastically increased capacity from a previous seven beds to 16 core beds, with the potential of 24 in an emergency, pandemic-like situation - hailed the completion as a huge step forward for the hospital.

Alan Heathcote, head of projects, told the Chronicle it was the hospital’s biggest capital scheme in years.

“Tuesday was a proud day as although it won’t be fully operational until mid-April, this was very much the end of a massive task which has seen an enormous amount of work take place.

“It was technically challenging given its location within the hospital, and access to it was restricted by a several-metre-wide doorway, which has been the access and egress point for concrete, steel, bricks, pipework and miles upon miles of cabling.

“Before, the ICU was split between high-dependency and intensive therapy units, but this purpose-built area will allow staff to work seamlessly in one dedicated space.

“It’s a very proud achievement and one that will provide reassurance to not only those who work at the hospital, but patients and families alike.

“While the facility is exceptional and is there for anyone who needs it, it’s obviously a place where we don’t want people to be.”

The new unit will also enhance patients’ experiences and wellbeing with more appropriately-sized and spaced-out beds, better lighting and décor, as well as enhanced provisions for privacy.

These factors all contribute to shorter stays, quicker discharges, and speedier recoveries in general, hospital bosses said.

As well as the increased beds, a space for overnight stays for families has also been created.

Christopher Carline, managing director of Illingworth and Gregory, added: “This unit is living proof of what hard work and determination can get you.

“It’s taken a lot of hard work and every single person involved has had to overcome numerous challenges - but seeing it at the handover stage makes it all worth it.

“I couldn’t be happier with the end result - the last unit was nowhere near big enough and everyone felt on top of each other.

“So it’s great to now have a new and updated facility with specialised equipment - it’s not the same as a standard ward.”

The award-winning ICU team’s members have previously been honoured with the Freedom of the Borough award - the highest honour Barnsley Council can bestow.

Rob McCubbin, operations director, told the Chronicle the task was tough given the lack of space.

“The previous ICU was small and given the demand, it was clear the team had outgrown that space.

“This project has given a massive increase in space and beds - it’s been a huge capital scheme.”

Hospital chief executive Richard Jenkins added: “We’re investing heavily in our facilities right across the trust.

“These critical care beds will not only expand our capacity to care for the most poorly patients, but will help relieve some of the pressures elsewhere in our hospital and allow our teams to ensure their patients receive the best possible treatment and care.’’