Diagnostic team tests 2,500 blood samples every day

DGH feature on the pathology department'27/04/12'Warwick Davis on the full blood count analyser
DGH feature on the pathology department'27/04/12'Warwick Davis on the full blood count analyser

“FIRST thing first,” began Warwick Davis – a consultant in pathology at the DGH - “we are nothing like CSI or Quincy.”

“People see that on television and imagine that is what we get up to - but it could not be further from the truth.”

He could not be more keen to stress that point, possibly hoping to dampen my expectations of seeing 3D projections of skeletons, complete with exit wounds and facial reconstructions.

The reality is, in its own way, just as interesting, but that does not prevent his frustrations when the first person we meet on our tour, a David O’Connor, opens with the line “I suppose you could say we are a bit like CSI.”

Much mock neck-ringing later and the pair have agreed to disagree. And, in fairness to Dr O’Connor, there is a huge amount of detective work involved in much of the team’s day-to-day work.

It just does tend to involve unfathomably complicated computer programmes cross-matching a body with the dental records of every missing person in the known world.

In fact, without borrowing too heavily from Hollywood, pathology isn’t just about seeing dead people.

Much of the work by the team is processing blood samples, helping work out what is wrong with people in the hospital and keeping tabs on the stockpile of blood and plasma needed for transfusions.

Mr Davis is pleased to be able to shed some light on the department’s work, particularly mindful of the fact that even other hospital staff are somewhat uninformed as to what exactly goes on down in pathology.

“Our basic role,” he explains, “is to provide information for the diagnoses and monitoring of disease although there is more to it than that.”

He isn’t overstating that. Some of the facts are flabbergasting. “We perform almost six million tests each year and have a repertoire of more than 900 different tests.

“On average we are testing around 2,500 samples every day and 75 per cent of clinical decisions made in the hospital are based on the results of those tests.”

If their task is one of mammoth proportions, the staff somehow manage to keep on top of things - helped no doubt by the array of technology at their disposal.

An impressive 90 per cent of all tests are completed on the same day the sample arrives and the team’s response rates are among the best in the south.

Interestingly, not all of the tests are for things which would immediately spring to mind. While much is done on rare diseases and cancers, the variety is astonishing.

There are even, according to Dr Davis, an array of allergy tests which throw up some weird and wonderful results – assuming he isn’t pulling our leg.

“We can test for allergy to more than 500 different sources from the common ones like house dust mites to the less common ones like celery and squid.

“We even come across people who are allergic to chocolate and wine, although thankfully that is not something I have identified in myself yet.”

The clinical laboratory diagnostics (CLD) team as it has taken to being called, provides its testing service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Blood testing, it seems, stops for no man or public holiday. If the samples are there to be looked at, someone will be on hand to look at them.

“We have laboratory support staff, phlebotomists, secretaries, store staff and, of course, clinical consultants,” reveals Dr Davis.

“Some consultants are based primarily on the wards, some work across the laboratories and the wards and some, like the consultant histopathologists, work almost exclusively in the lab. It is very much a team effort.”

Phlebotomists, for anyone who, like me, had never heard the term before reading this, are the people who collect blood – and at an impressively high rate.

As many as 500 people every day provide blood which is then stored in the hospital’s specialist fridge-like facility. That translates to an awful lot of the red stuff being tested. There are also more than 150 units of donated blood made available for emergency transfusions or scheduled operations.

“We provide around 18,000 units of blood for transfusions every year,” said Mr Davis, “and the blood we issue is worth more than £2million. Donors are essential and without their blood much of what goes on at the hospital would be impossible.”

Dr O’Connor, busy processing samples, agreed. “People often ask which part of a hospital is most important and I always answer that each department is as valued as the next.

“But if they were to ask who is the most important unpaid people the answer is easy – the donors.

“Without people giving their blood the hospital simply would not work.”