Fix-it team keeps the hospital ticking over

The EME team at the DGH
The EME team at the DGH

IT IS next to impossible to visualise the sheer scale of the work shovelled in the direction of the DGH’s EME team.

Made up of six technicians (including two apprentices), two medical device educators and two librarians the department is a small one.

Housed in a tucked away corner of the hospital with much of the room they do have earmarked for storing testing kit, staff who expertly fix and maintain everything from blood pressure monitors to advanced anaesthetic machines work almost on top of each other. There almost isn’t room to swing a screwdriver.

Last year though they saw a mammoth 26,663 different jobs come though their doors, into their in-trays and then back into use. Working in EME then is clearly quite an undertaking.

“The EME department was set up in 1976 at St Mary’s Hospital,” explained Simeon Beaumont (above), the man tasked with keeping tabs on who is working on what, where it has gone wrong and what can be done about it. “It was relocated here to the DGH in 1989 and has grown ever since.

“The purpose of the department is to manage, support and maintain medical equipment and we are involved in training in how the devices are used as well as how to repair them.

“The job has changed a lot certainly since I started. Where once we would look at a manual and try and fix something to component level, now we are a lot more involved in how they are being used so we have to understand how everything works and what it does.”

That is where the tricky bit comes in. The trust currently uses more than 5,500 different pieces of equipment and, while some components are going to be similar from piece to piece, it means the EME workers have to develop and almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the hospital’s stock.

When push comes to shove and something needs fixing there is only one department doctors and nurses call. The EME team.

“When a piece of equipment breaks down on a ward we try to get it working within an hour,” continued Mr Beaumont. “We aim to respond to 70 per cent of defect work within one day to ensure disruption to the wards and other clinical areas is kept to a minimum.

“The quicker we can get things up and working again the quicker they can be used with patients.”

And, according to his colleague Mark Hayllar (above, right), as much as they all enjoy tinkering around on the gear, it is the team’s role as a vital cog in the clinical wheel which provides the most reward.

He said, “That is definitely the best part of the job. To be able to play a part in making sure people are treated is great. I enjoy what I do but to be able to do it in a hospital is great because you know that when you fix something you are directly helping someone.”

A shortage of qualified technicians has led, inadvertently, to an upsurge in business for the EME team.

With other trust’s and services lacking such an experienced and talented staff, the DGH’s EME has taken on outside contracts across Sussex and now deals with equipment from 600 different centres.

With that comes income for the trust, which in turn has helped fund the two apprentices, who will hopefully follow in the footsteps of people like Mark and Simeon.

The current apprentices, Jack Thompsett and Jack Cooper, spend time in the hospital as well as in college and are getting to grips with the ever-evolving technology. Every time a new piece of kit comes online, the technicians have to know how to fix it.

But there are also upshots of the technological progress. Much like the general public, hospitals have developed a throw-away culture.

Mr Beaumont explained, “Things which were expensive 20 years ago and would have cost a lot to replace are now so cheap it makes more sense to dispose of them and buy a new one. In fact, there are numerous devices which are for single patient use only.

“We are always busy though. A technician working in a factory would have to learn how to work with maybe three or four devices. We look after thousands.

“The biggest challenge is not doing the work – we have the skills to do each job – it is fitting them all in.

“Every bit of equipment in the hospital has to be tested and maintained. Next time you go to hospital look at the device they are using and if will have a yellow sticker on it. That is us.”

Hidden away they maybe, but the EME team is what keeps the hospital ticking over and makes sure doctors and nurses have the tools to save lives.

Next time you see one of those little yellow stickers, it is worth remembering that.

They don’t want or expect anyone’s thanks, but they do as much as anyone to deserve them.