Laboratory’s work is a matter of life and death
THE word pathology derives from the ancient Greek pathos meaning suffering or experience.
So it is perhaps no surprise that many people still regard pathology as a morbid science, or associate it with the study of the dead.
Pathologists are known more publicly for delivering crucial post-mortem results during inquests.
Yet the pathology department at the Royal Bolton Hospital is integral to patient care and diagnosis of disease at both the hospital and in the community when it comes to running any sort of test.
It is also one of the most industrious thanks to rapid advances in technology and is open 24 hours a day, all year, in order to process thousands of tests around the clock.
Dr Gilbert Wieringa, clinical lead for Laboratory Medicine, who has been at the Royal Bolton for five years, said: “We are actually trying to move away from the term pathology because it tends to conjure up images of scientists in lab coats with test tubes. This is why we tend to call it laboratory medicine nowadays.
“It really is the cornerstone to diagnosis and patient care — you cannot provide treatment without the pathology department. What people perhaps don’t realise is that 70 per cent of information required for patient management relies on information provided by pathologists.
“Our labs are made up of what you might call the ‘back room boys and girls’ and the value of the service is often not recognised, when really it is crucial to patient care.
“You could say it is a Cinderella service but we are needed 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week, 365 days-a-year. For example, if a patient rushed into hospital after a car accident, suffering massive blood loss, they will need a blood transfusion urgently. To do that we will need to process their blood samples immediately to get them the care they need.”
The pathology department is made up of 170 staff who can test for any sort of disease from cancer markers to AIDS and HIV. It is divided into sub-departments such as haematology, infection control and microbiology.
Peter Kinsella manages the haematology department which is responsible for all blood science at the hospital. He also says that pathology is a crucial service at the hospital but like all areas of medicine, has seen rapid advances in technology over the years.
“Without pathology, there would be no hospital service. I don’t think people realise how many samples we test at the hospital, “ says Mr Kinsella.
“There have been huge advances in my time, let alone in the past 40 years. For example, it used to take 20 to 30 minutes to do a full blood count under a microscope whereas now it can take 40 seconds to analyse on a machine. We process up to 3500 samples per day across blood sciences so the work load has rapidly increased.”
Pathology now plays an increasingly important role in public health and the early detection of disease, such as diabetes or liver dysfunction.
Dr Wieringa explained: “Now pathology plays a crucial role in public health and early intervention by screening for diseases such a diabetes. These screening programmes have really taken off over the years.”
Denise Camm has worked at the hospital in the pathology department since 1968 and worked through the rapid changes.
Miss Camm, aged 61, who is retiring this year, said: “I started in a clerical role about 46 years ago and then I moved into the blood science lab.
“I think many people think that pathology is a study of the dead but actually my role is to help process all those thousands of samples.
“It has certainly been a learning curve over the years and there’s always something new to learn.”
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