Chesterfield Royal scientists send ripples around the NHS

editorial image

“It makes sense that the sooner somebody who is seriously ill is put on the right antibiotics,the better their chances”

“I am sure there are Chesterfield people alive and well today who would not be if it were not for the progress we have made.”

I’ve come back to Chesterfield Royal to talk science - to meet some of the lab coat-clad people who spend a vast amount of time helping to save people’s lives.

Unlike the doctors and the nurses, the consultants and the other clinicians, these people do not have routine patient contact, but the role they play is just as vital.

The work that has been taking place behind the scenes at the hospital’s pathology department, which includes blood sciences and microbiology, is ground-breaking.

So ground-breaking, in fact, that bigger hospitals are now coming to Chesterfield Royal to learn from them.

There is a lot of science to this - way beyond my basic grasp from school chemistry - but it goes something like this.

In a nutshell, blood scientists test blood from patients for examination in pathology laboratories in order to diagnose and monitor illnesses.

Microbiologists study microscopic organisms in blood and other human fluids to establish what is making a patient unwell.

Sepsis, or blood poisoning in old money, is one such condition which can be diagnosed and one which can prove fatal if the right antibiotics are not administered.

The only real problem is time . . . and the need to keep antibiotic use to a minimum as bugs are becoming more resistant.

So the sooner you can diagnose, the sooner you

can get a patient on the right drug.

Before that point you cannot be certain - the antibiotic may not be appropriate, or may be stronger than it needs to be.

Some antibiotics have side effects - so the sooner the scientists know exactly what is causing the problems, then the sooner your medication can be switched, hopefully to something that has fewer side effects.

The Royal’s microbiology and blood science teams have been working together to develop a new process which hastens the effective treatment of Sepsis.

A new system of taking and testing blood cultures has led to them being tested sooner than previously. Time is a major factor in successful blood culture testing.

So how do you speed it up?

Well, what if you bring the departments closer together? What if you move the analyser downstairs to blood science, and train the staff down there in microbiology?

Why not switch microbiology bottles from glass to plastic, so they can be transferred around more rapidly through the hospital’s pneumatic tube system? That way you don’t have to wait for a porter to transfer samples manually.

What if you work as a team and inspire them to realise the impact they are having by speeding things up, the number of lives they are saving?

What if you can halve the turnaround time of a positive blood culture?

I’m simplifying, obviously. But these small alterations have caused a butterfly effect that is now impacting out throughout the NHS regionally and nationally, and secured the departments a major innovation award.

The department now receives 96 per cent of cultures within two hours from some of the sickest patients within the hospital and results are turned around very quickly, with 50 per cent of cultures receiving a completed report within 24 hours - far quicker than most hospitals.

There are no names in this feature, you may have noticed. This might be partly because the scientists are more introverted than their patient-facing colleagues.

But it is also about teamwork. This is the work of a team of people.

This has only worked because every member of the team has got stuck in and played a part - believed in the potential of what they have done.

“Chesterfield people are a bit like that,” I am told.

“They naturally want to help, to do what they can for others.”

So perhaps that explains why a small town hospital

is now sending ripples through the health system nationally.

A bit of common sense and a willingness to help others! Does that sound familiar?