In the early 1980s, Wellbeing of Women – which was then called Birthright – met with Lord and Lady Harris of Peckham to explore how they could support our life-saving research into pregnancy and birth complications.
Recognising that this area of research was desperately underfunded and under-resourced, Lord and Lady Harris decided to create grants that would allow the most deserving, most qualified hospitals to open research hubs dedicated to saving women and babies’ lives.
Not only would these centres become self-sufficient hubs of leading international research but also a place to give patients world-leading care, and to train up new doctors and midwives.
First, in 1983, the Harris Birthright Centre for Fetal Medicine at King’s College Hospital in London opened, a clinical unit and research centre for the assessment and treatment of unborn babies with the intention of developing better methods of diagnosing problems in early pregnancy. Today the Centre, which cares for more than 10,000 patients annually, also has miscarriage, surgical and renal clinics.
Between then and 2014, five more centres were established around the UK.
From London to Liverpool
In 1984, Princess Diana opened the Harris Birthright Centre for Early Pregnancy, St. Mary’s Hospital, London. The Centre, known as Save The Baby Unit, was the largest of its kind in the world and became a hotspot for important studies on early pregnancy and recurrent miscarriage.
The Harris Birthright Centre for Reproductive Medicine, Jessop Hospital for Women, Sheffield, then opened in 1986. This innovative centre focused on research into unexplained infertility.
In the same year, the Harris Birthright Centre for Pre-eclampsia, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford opened, including a landmark study into better understanding the condition including its cause and how to treat it more effectively.
The Harris Birthright Centre for the Prevention of Cervical Cancer opened at the University of Aberdeen in 1988. The Centre’s study of the HPV virus – as part of its investigation into cervical cancer – was instrumental to the creation of the school-wide vaccination programme on offer today.
Finally, in 2015, Lord and Lady Harris donated £1 million to open the Harris-Wellbeing Preterm Birth Centre at Liverpool Women’s Hospital. The research centre seeks to understand the causes of preterm birth – which affects 60,000 babies and their families every year – and delivers personalised treatments for women at risk of preterm birth.
This generation of research and the next
Today, Lord and Lady Harris’ generosity has enabled decades of much needed medical research across the UK. Their investment has led to major breakthroughs, from how experts treat recurrent miscarriage to new techniques used to scan unborn babies.
Not only this, but their support has also developed the careers of many new medics – the next generation of researchers in women’s health.