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Hospital science under the microscope

Healthcare Science Week 2017The vital contribution that scientists at Poole Hospital make to patient care went under the microscope this week as staff throughout the hospital  enjoyed rare access to laboratories and clinical areas.

Healthcare science is a term that covers a wide range of roles helping to improve the health and wellbeing of patients and the public. It covers staff working in diverse areas including pathology, medical physics (including radiation), microbiology, clinical engineering and nuclear medicine.

Working alongside doctors, nurses and other health professionals, around 80 per cent of all diagnoses at Poole Hospital are made possible by the 250 staff working in healthcare science.

The field is vast. Poole Hospital’s clinical engineers are responsible for the maintenance of equipment of around 9,000 medical devices worth more than £50m, while biochemists process more than 2,700 samples a day, with urgent results returned to wards and departments within an hour.

Many, like biochemistry, haematology and transfusion, operate 24 hours a day, while services including neurophysiology and maxillofacial prosthetics are using cutting edge technology to improve patient care.

Andrew HuntAndrew Hunt (left) is the head of medical physics, as well as Poole Hospital’s lead scientist. He says that in the past 10 years there’s been a step-change in the role science and technology has played in the NHS.

“The future of the NHS is science and technology, there’s no doubt,” said Andrew.

“We are increasingly seeing science as the basis for medicine, with people not traditionally labelled as scientists expected to know more and more about it, for example doctors and nurses.

“Radiotherapy is unbelievably more complex than when I started out 30 years ago – even in the last 10 years the change and reliance on healthcare science and scientists has been marked. In pathology, for example, we now have the automatic analysis of samples, which frees up valuable time that scientists can spend looking at abnormal results instead of hundreds of routine results.”


To raise awareness of the wide variety of healthcare science services at the hospital during Healthcare Science Week (10-19 March), departments have arranged open door events for hospital staff to find out more and meet the teams behind them. Areas on show range from maxillofacial prosthetics and respiratory physiology to clinical engineering and neurophysiology (understanding the nervous system).

“Many scientists have direct patient-facing roles, measuring how a patient responds to stimuli like exercise, or how their heart or another organ is functioning,” says Andrew.

“Healthcare science covers such a broad area, and without it the hospital could not function. From measuring radiation doses administered in radiotherapy to commissioning new diagnostic equipment like our new PET CT scanner, which will see its first patients later this month, scientists and their colleagues perform vital roles."

Lisa MaidenClinical scientist Claire Davies and medical physicist Dr Michael Brooks are pictured above testing the new PET CT scanner for safety and image quality as part of the commissioning process.

“In the not-too-distant future we will see genetics more and more at the heart of medicine, using an individual’s genome to predict potential predispositions to certain conditions that we can then target," continued Andrew.

“It’s a hugely exciting time, and Poole Hospital’s scientists are playing a vital part in taking healthcare to even greater heights.”

Lisa Maiden (right) is a biomedical scientist working in microbiology, and uses her skills and specialist knowledge to diagnose infections, including meningitis, viral infections, septicaemia, C. difficile and MRSA. She says that her role is often unseen by patients but plays a vital part in getting them back to health.

“Often people don't realise that biomedical scientists in the laboratory play an important role in the diagnosis of clinical infection, allowing rapid and successful treatment,” she said.

“It’s great that Healthcare Science Week is helping to draw attention to the valuable work that we and others do.”

A flavour of healthcare science at Poole Hospital

Clinical engineering

  • Responsible for upkeep and management of 9,000 medical devices at Poole Hospital worth around £50m
  • Looks after a further 11,000 devices on loan to patients and in other hospitals


  • 225 staff, including 75 healthcare scientists
  • Work includes supporting county-wide screening programmes, including breast and bowel

Clinical biochemistry

  • 24 hour, seven day service seeing 2,700 samples every day – urgent results available in less than one hour
  • Can tell if a patient has conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease or a heart attack from blood samples
  • Can also measure how well cancer treatment is working, or how well kidneys are performing

Haematology and transfusion

  • 24 hour, seven day blood transfusion service
  • Perform 1,200 full blood counts every day
  • Essential support service to A&E, maternity, surgery and the Dorset Cancer Centre

Cardiac physiology

  • One of fewer than 30 services accredited by the national body
  • Perform stress-testing, echocardiograms, innovative research, pacemakers

Respiratory physiology

  • Perform 3,000 outpatient tests each year
  • Take part in complex studies looking at sleep disorders
  • Also investigate allergies as well as lung function tests

Medical physics

  • Assists in assuring the quality and safety of all medical imaging, including the Trust’s obligations to comply with radiation safety legislation.
  • Clinical Measurement services include measurement of gut and bowel function

Clinical neurophysiology

  • Provides tests to help diagnose people with seizures and nerve problems for the Dorset Neurology Service, based at Poole Hospital
  • Supports critical care teams at both Poole and the Royal Bournemouth hospitals to monitor brain activity of unconscious patients
  • Can diagnose patients who have seizures and cannot travel to hospital by using remote EEG diagnostic tests in their own home
  • Offer specialist eye tests (electroretinography) that record tiny electrical responses from different cells in the retina to identify if poor eyesight is caused by nerve problems for patients across Dorset and east Somerset

Radiotherapy physics

  • Specific support to the Dorset Cancer Centre
  • Lead on development of innovative radiotherapy treatments, including using diagnostic imaging and state-of-the-art scanners

Maxillofacial prosthetics (reconstructive sciences)

  • Use 3D technologies to create custom medical devices
  • Typical patients include those with cancer, trauma or congenital conditions

Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Longfleet Road, Poole, Dorset BH15 2JB. Tel: 01202 665511

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