The opening of Wishaw General Hospital at the end of May completed a season of change for hospital care in Lanarkshire, and marked the biggest change ever to take place in the NHS. Two new hospitals opening within weeks of each other presented an enormous challenge - in the event, everything went to plan.

The transfer of patients and services to the new Hairmyres Hospital has been a major success, and rejuvenation work is ongoing at Monklands Hospital, illustrating the detailed forward planning and hard work put in by all concerned. However, the real success lies not just in the construction of buildings, services and the latest technology, but in the fact that every aspect of this development has been designed around patients' needs and care.

The new #100m hospital is situated in Netherton, Wishaw, and it replaces Law Hospital, which had 526 beds, and the 106-bed Bellshill Hospital. Building work was completed in February this year, when preparation began for the smooth transition of services by the end of May.

At all times patient care and confidence in the service was to the fore, with a great deal of information being fed well in advance to anyone who might be affected by the changeover period. This was completed effectively, and the weekend of May 25 heralded the move, with 144 patients transferred from Law Hospital and the new facilities coming into operation.

There are 633 in-patient beds, 56 beds for day cases and 45 day hospital places in Wishaw General providing the range of services expected from a modern day general hospital, as well as some special features.

The re-designed maternity services are unique and have been completed with the move to Wishaw General Hospital, including the creation of four-day assessment centres, resulting in one of the the most innovative and patient-friendly services in operation.

In addition to a day assessment centre in the maternity facilities at Wishaw General, new centres have been built at Hairmyres Hospital, East Kilbride, Airdrie Health Centre, in the grounds of Monklands Hospital, and a temporary centre has been provided in Lockhart Hospital, Lanark, until the permanent facility is available.

The day assessment centre includes services such as fetal monitoring, blood pressure monitoring, ultrasound scanning and parenthood education, providing services near women's own homes that they would otherwise have had to travel to hospital to receive.

It is expected that women from outwith the Wishaw area will only come into Wishaw General to deliver their babies or if they have complications during pregnancy. There will be no change in the way antenatal clinics are held, and pregnant women will continue to see their midwives at the consultant clinic held at local health centres for routine care.

Physiotherapy now has a hydrotherapy pool, providing a type of palliative care which is becoming increasingly popular in many areas of medicine, and will be used by patients with a variety of ailments.

Wishaw General also has the first emergency care unit of its kind in the UK, where all emergency admissions will come into a single area. John Scott, consultant in accident and emergency says: ''It will be similar to the American and Australian systems, an integrated accident and emergency unit and a 36-bed ward - ER comes to Lanarkshire. We hope to have all emergency admissions going through this single unit. The main advantages are a shorter time to investigation, treatment and discharge.''

It is estimated that 65% of all admissions to hospitals are emergency admissions, and around 1000 patients a week are seen by the accident and emergency department. The new unit will attend to the seriously ill and injured in a single nursing team with a range of specialities, including medicine, surgery, orthopaedics and accident and emergency.

Grant Archibald, general manager, is delighted at the way the move took place. ''The move went exactly to plan. Patient safety was our priority and through the tremendous joint effort of the ambulance service and our staff we transported all 144 patients safely into their new wards in Wishaw General.''

He says: ''While we all have fond memories of the hospital we left behind we are very excited about the new services we can provide together with the #10.6m of new equipment.

''There is a great sense of ownership in this hospital as it was designed by the staff for patients. Key services are co-located and integrated, based on patients' requirements. A major benefit is that for the first time we will be located in a single building instead of five disparate locations as at Law Hospital. The external environment provides a substantial improvement with 18 landscaped courtyards and sculptured hospital grounds.''

Radiology has the latest integrated picture archiving and communication system (PACS). This means x-rays can be viewed on computers in wards and departments, instead of the old-fashioned method of putting the x-ray on a screen or holding it up to the light.

Not only does Wishaw General have an integrated system throughout the hospital, this is being phased in at Hairmyres and Monklands Hospitals, so all the Lanarkshire acute hospitals are networked linked.

Chairman James Dunbar says: ''There has been a substantial modernisation of acute hospital services in Lanarkshire. With the opening of Wishaw General, this completes the new acute hospital building in Lanarkshire.

''The new Hairmyres Hospital opened three months ago and with the ongoing programme of rejuvenation at Monklands we can provide the most modern services for our patients.''

Joe Owens, chief executive, praised the commitment shown by trust staff who worked together to ensure the move went smoothly. He says: ''This has been a textbook operation. We have created history in Lanarkshire by opening two new hospitals within eight weeks of each other. Key to the success was the development of a sound strategic plan by Ian Ross, the director of planning and his team.''

He feels gratitude to everyone involved in getting the new facilities up and running, as each area needed meticulous planning. ''We have had tremendous support by staff in each of the Lanarkshire Hospitals, and with our partner services such as Scottish Ambulance Service, general practitioners and the primary care trust. In addition, the removal company Pickfords organised the movement of hospital equipment and furniture, as are Serco who provide the hospital support services.

''We can now concentrate on building on the success we have achieved in providing a first-class Lanarkshire health service from first-class facilities.''