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I'm a radiologist and writing helps me make sense of the world.

"My method is to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity" -George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Whistling while you work

It isn’t often that I have something to be cheery about at work. Conditions in England’s NHS aren’t generally conducive to smiling, spontaneous laughter or outbursts of song. UK radiology is in a particularly dark place at the moment. But the last 12 months have seen this particular radiologist quite bright-eyed and positively bushy-tailed at times. I have been known to whistle the odd merry tune apropos of nothing.

The reason for this uncharacteristic jauntiness is fairly simple. It wasn’t that we were lucky enough to recently fund five new consultant posts. It wasn’t the pleasant surprise at getting five applicants. It wasn’t the frank astonishment at appointing 5 highly promising individuals. It wasn’t the bewildering fact that they’ve all turned out to be absolutely cracking new colleagues. Admittedly this has helped but it isn’t the real reason.

The truth behind my buoyant spirits is moving into our new hospital building. It opened in May 2014 after 9 years of planning and building. Two distinctly down-at-heel old hospitals were merged into a single brand new huge building. It took 46000 cubic metres of concrete and 7000 tonnes of structural steel to build one of the largest buildings in Bristol, at a cost of £430m.

Part of the joy is the physical beauty of the building. The main atrium is 6 storeys of multi-coloured glass. Natural light abounds. Simply strolling through it puts a spring in your step. Installation art and courtyard gardens are around each corner.

The main atrium of the new hospital

Part of the joy is finally seeing what we planned so meticulously finally come to fruition. Our radiology department was highly engaged, unlike others. We spent countless hours with the architects and planners. There was table-thumping at times. We moved doorways by 5cm and light switches by less. It was worth it; we got the department that we needed. Moreover, all the design features that we insisted upon are now working like a dream. One of the planning team is fond of quoting, “People got the department that they deserved”, to which I smiled knowingly.

Part of the joy is a profusion of new scanners. The lengthy planning had blighted scanner replacement. We therefore limped along on some ancient machines. One famous 14 year old 4-slice CT had literally no original parts apart from the outer casing; everything had been replaced at least once. A 17 year old MRI scanner broke irreparably; it literally went ‘bang’ and that was that. The new hospital, however, was crammed with gleaming new machines. We stared, slack-jawed and drooling. 

Part of the joy is ergonomic PACS stations. We designed a suite of identical reporting rooms with highly adjustable chairs and tables. They are immensely comfortable - a prolonged reporting session no longer feels like a physical chore.

Part of the joy is the direct adjacencies. The main radiology department is literally at the centre of the hospital. Nothing is far away. Our admin office is next to the reporting suite and opposite the secretaries office and the coffee room. These four points form a holy quadrilateral, especially the latter.

Part of the joy is a hot:cold split. All clinical enquiries, trauma calls and urgent cases go to our separate Emergency Radiology sub-department. This is nested within the Emergency Department and is staffed 24/7 by registrars and 8-8 by consultants. We all work in shifts to make the intensity of the work bearable. The main department is therefore deliberately interruption-free by design.

Part of the joy is new facilities that we never had before. We built a huge interventional radiology (IR) unit. Specifically designed with 6 fluoroscopy rooms (including one hybrid theatre) and a 16 bed day case unit, patient throughput is slick and IR is now assuming its rightful prominence. Then there is the self-contained one-stop breast unit. And not forgetting the brand new PET/CT suite too.

Part of the joy is, bizarrely, an open plan office. Much feared but, in fact, a very sociable admin space. All 35 consultants share a large office with large south-facing windows. Quiet enough to get your head down but a colleague is always on tap for a second opinion. It has also brought us together as a group in a way that we didn’t foresee.

A single quote encapsulated all this the other day. One of my new colleagues said unprompted, “This must be the best radiology department in the UK”. I agreed, grinning. But then again he was one of our old registrars, so he would say that.

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