Sheffield Hospitals celebrates vital role of healthcare scientists

Healthcare scientists from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust will be giving members of the public an insight into the key role they play in helping to bring innovative and safe care to millions of patients who use Sheffield’s adult hospitals every day.

NHS staff who use science to support patients in a wide range of areas, including through infertility treatment and through the diagnosis and management of heart conditions, will be showcasing their work in a week-long series of profiles to be posted on the Trust’s Facebook account throughout Healthcare Science Week (9 to 18 March 2018).

Around 900 staff work across specialist healthcare science roles at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, and as well as working in laboratory-based roles, they undertake scientific investigations that can be crucial to a patient’s diagnosis and care while others provide essential maintenance to the many pieces of sophisticated medical equipment used in the Trust.

On a day-to-day basis their work contributes to 80% of decisions made about patient’s treatment, and their ongoing research and development into new technologies and techniques form the basis of tomorrow’s treatments.

Among those profiled include Michael Smith, who is responsible for the timely analysis of 5000 samples a year in his clinical chemistry department at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital alone. Although the service is provided out of the limelight, the service runs non-stop, with the majority of the samples arriving from GPs.

“The results that biomedical scientists provide, not just from clinical chemistry, but all disciplines provide crucial information for medical staff such as doctors and consultants to ensure patients receive the most suitable treatment,” said Michael, who now works as a senior biomedical scientist after starting his career in the field as a trainee straight out of university.

Using large automated analysers, which are maintained on a daily basis and need to pass strict quality control procedures, the information processed could be measuring a patient’s kidney function before attending a dialysis appointment, the bilirubin from a new born to determine if they are recovering from jaundice having been born premature, or Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) to determine if a patient will respond to IVF treatment by working out how many eggs are remaining in the ovaries.

“Assisting in a patient receiving the best care possible is the most satisfactory thing about this job. Everything that I’ve done to make sure the result I provide is accurate will aid in the patient having a better experience overall whilst having to visit their doctor or GP,” added Michael.

Unlike some healthcare scientists, Lucy Wood, who works as a clinical embryologist at Jessop Fertility, spends a large proportion of her time with patients.

“We have an important role in supporting our patients through a difficult journey and putting them at ease whenever possible and being able to listen,” said Lucy whose day starts with checking how many eggs have fertilised from the previous day’s collection.

“We communicate with them each day, talking to them before their egg collection and embryo transfer and daily on the telephone to let them know how their embryos are developing in the laboratory. The Assisted Conception Unit are a lovely team, and as an NHS IVF clinic works hard to provide patients with the best care possible through their good success rates.”

Lawrence Brown has worked as clinical scientist since 2005, and finds out why some patients can’t see properly recording the electrical responses that are produced by the eyes and brain during visual stimulation. Recording and analysing these tiny signals requires sophisticated equipment and software, and the job involves a good deal of interaction with patients, some of whom are elderly and some as young as two weeks.

“In many cases our tests are the only means to locate and assess their problem, and we need to get them through several hours of testing, often in the dark, so good interpersonal skills are essential,” said Lawrence. “Occasionally I get to identify a rare and totally unexpected sight-threatening problem in time to make a real difference to the patient.  And getting good quality test results from a child with challenging behaviour is a great feeling too, a shared feeling, because it’s impossible without good teamwork.”

Professor Wendy Tindale, scientific and innovation director at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Healthcare scientists provide essential scientific expertise to support patient diagnosis, treatment and safety and are key innovators in the NHS, introducing new technologies to provide improvements in patient care. Many people assume being a healthcare scientist means working in a laboratory, but in fact there are 52 specialisms to work in, and it’s one of the most exciting parts of the NHS to build and develop a career. As a large teaching hospital Trust, we provide a wealth of opportunities and training, including for trainees at all levels of their healthcare science career.”


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