In 1969 there were some significant events; the Beatles played together for the last time, Woodstock, Neil Armstrong stood on the moon, the death penalty was abolished in the UK, first flights of Concorde and Boeing 747, BBC1 and 2 start colour broadcasts, the last episode of Star Trek was shown on TV and I started work at Southampton General Hospital as a Student Technician in Pathology.
In those distant days before Health and Safety we ate, smoked and held Xmas parties in the lab, mouth pipetted acids, alkalis and body fluids and sharpened our own bone marrow needles! One of the Seniors in my first lab, Microbiology contracted tuberculosis from a sputum sample. The fume hood was where we kept the explosive Picric Acid and Ether.
The very first electronic blood cell counters were being introduced in Haematology and Biochemistry was introducing the first multi-channel analysers. Histopathology would be recognisable to most today, no immuno-staining of course as Immunology had not been invented! Microbiology would also be recognisable because of the Petri dishes, however, in all laboratories there were no plastic disposables, everything was glass and all washed and re-used. Cytogenetics was based on cutting out photographs of chromosomes. We made up all reagents in the lab. First thing in the morning lab staff would go and collect the blood samples from In-patients.
There were no laboratory budgets or turn-around times and external QC was in its infancy. Patient details were written into a day-book, reports were hand written and delivered to the wards by the lab porter. On a busy day the laboratory would receive 180 samples from all sources.
Biomedical Scientists were called Medical Laboratory Technicians and had only been State Registered with the CPSM since 1962, Clinical Scientists were a rare breed had a science degree and were not registered. Registration was originally based on passing a professional body exam and having a letter from your boss saying you were a good chap.
The only thing from that era I would want to keep is that there was plenty of time to learn because traditionally education was delivered ‘on the job’.
Education was changing from professional body (IMLT now IBMS) exams to the newly introduced ONC and HNC by day release at Polytechnic Colleges. Professional bodies tended to operate in silos.
Now nearly 50 years later I am amazed by the changes In the Healthcare Science world. Laboratories are unrecognisable in terms of repertoire, workload, quality of output and patient focus.
Everyone acknowledges that diagnostic tests are involved in the vast majority of diagnoses, treatment and monitoring of disease this has led to vast increases in workload and ex
pectations of quicker turnaround times. Budgets are now tight and ever more efficiencies are expected. All at a level of quality (ISO 15189) never before achieved.
New technologies mean that we can perform individual testing strategies to support personalised medicine, nanopore technology will soon enable antibiotic resistance to be diagnosed at the bedside.
Healthcare science has embraced the support worker grades. Apprenticeships at level 2 and 4 are freely available. Healthcare Scientist Education has progressed are now all graduate, post graduate qualifications are at Master’s Level. The first apprenticeships at degree level are becoming available. The STP programme and its equivalence process have given many Healthcare science workers the opportunity to achieve Clinical Scientist registration. The HSST program if it fulfils its potential will enable Clinical Scientists to achieve Consultant Scientist status.
Finally and probably most importantly, previous attempts at giving a single voice to all 60 branches of Healthcare Science in the NHS have failed however the efforts of the President and Council of the AHCS over the last few years have come to fruition and I believe we now speak with one voice and perhaps can start to influence policy.
Chairman, John Stevens