From Looking after the Bedpans to Big Changes; Medical and Technological Innovations over the Past 60 Years Have Led to Major Advances in Health Care since the NHS Was Created. Health Correspondent Emma Brady Asked Staff and Volunteers What Changes Have Had the Biggest Impact

Article excerpt

Byline: Emma Brady

Frances Soocoormanee became an enrolled nurse in 1968 and, after working at various Midland hospitals, is now staff convenor at Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham.

"Enrolled nurses were 'bedside nurses' when I qualified, which basically meant our role was to see to the patients' needs, whether it be a bed pan or pain relief," says Frances.

"The problem with that was you could end up being the only one on a ward at night, but there have been some excellent changes since then, especially in nurses' training.

"However, I do think student nurses should be allowed to do more ward placements, so they get used to nursing practice in the real world and treating real patients. At present I don't think they're getting enough experience to back up their academic knowledge.

"They need to go beyond the textbooks to be able to sense when something's not quite right and share that information with the doctors.

"Back then patients were used to being told what was wrong and what treatment they would get because 'doctor knows best' but now they're more knowledgeable and more likely to ask for specific drugs or surgery as a result of surfing the internet.

"After working at the Corbett in Stourbridge and Birmingham Accident Hospital, I went on to become an industrial nurse, working without much of that support you'd get on the wards, so that's when a nurse's instinct is vital.

"I was working on construction sites, so I saw some pretty gruesome injuries, as well as a different side to nursing.

"I also remember a major Wu epidemic in the late 1960s which put real pressure on the wards.

"We used to be able to put emergency beds on the ward and any other space where we could fit one in, but you can't do that now due to health and safety, and infection control rules.

"We had our own cleaning staff on the ward those days, who would be managed by the ward sister, and they took real pride in their work and felt as if they were part of the team. But now we've moved away from that and contractors are doing that job instead, and deep cleans aren't done routinely like they were between the 1960s and 1980s, because demand for beds is so much higher.

"Back then there was time for beds to go 'cold' before the next patient came in and visitors weren't allowed to touch the bed let alone sit on it, but as we get more patients now we've got more visitors spending longer on the wards, which is how many bugs get into hospitals."

John George entered the NHS as a trainee lab technician in 1970 and now he's preparing for the future - he will organise the Queen Elizabeth and Selly Oak's move into the new University Hospital Birmingham, which starts in 2010.

"During my career there has been a big reduction in waiting times. For example it used to be one year for an MRI scan but that's now just a few weeks, and cancer patients used to wait 14-plus weeks for radiotherapy, and that's now just two weeks. This is partly down to the introduction of Government targets but it's been coupled with huge investment in new equipment," he says.

"Millions have been spent on new equipment and diagnostic tools, which has had a big impact on patient outcomes as people are being diagnosed and getting the relevant treatment much more quickly.

"One of my roles included responsibility for cancer care, which accounted for 25 per cent of hospital services at the Queen Elizabeth.

"Cancer services existed in the 1970s but it was much more rudimentary with less sophisticated equipment.

"Now with all these technological developments, the expectations on referrals from doctors and consultants is they expect patients to get tests or treatment that were either very difficult to get or unavailable in the 1970s and 1980s as a matter of routine.

"Also until quite recently, until 2002/03, we had to send patients who needed a PET scan - a form of MRI - to the Royal Marsden in London because we didn't have the equipment. …