Young patient Thomas becomes honorary biomedical scientist as part of “Harvey’s Lab Tour”

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A young patient at the Royal Cornwall Hospital was given a working tour of the Haematology Lab this week to help him understand more about his treatment.

Thomas, a patient on the Paediatric Ward, attended the tour alongside his mum, Karen.

Biomedical Scientist Louise Christophers and Associate Transfusion Practitioner Nesa Kelmendi meet with visitors as part of “Harvey’s Lab Tour”

The visit was arranged as part of the Harvey’s Lab Tour initiative, set up in memory of a young boy with leukaemia who wanted to know more about what happened to his blood samples. Harvey was presented with a lab coat and made a ‘Trainee Scientist’ for the afternoon, during which time he was given a working tour of the laboratory at Western Sussex NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust.

“Harvey’s is a great initiative,” explains Louise Christophers, Biomedical Scientist at RCHT. “It began in 2013 to help link patient care to the lab, and by 2018 the tours were being run in 40 laboratory sites across the UK.”

“The tours provide an excellent opportunity for patients to make the link between their blood samples and what happens in the lab,” Louise continues. “Prior to taking a patient to the lab we like to show them the whole of the sample pathway, from collection to storage. Here, they use the pod system, a pneumatic tube system that transports samples from all over the hospital to the labs, so they might write themselves a little note, which they then send down in the pod system. This mimics the same journey of a sample receipt. We then show them how a sample is processed, how it’s booked in and how it’s labelled and checked.

“We then take the patient around the lab to show the different places where the sample will visit. For instance, being put on the analyser, then having the results interpreted. Sometimes the sample will go for microscopy or for further investigation. We then show them parts of the lab that they might be more interested in if they’re patients who receive transfusions. So, we take them to blood transfusion, and we show them how blood grouping works. We show them how cross match is done, and then we take them in the blood fridge and show them red blood cells plasma. We also show them the platelets in the incubator and some other things which are going on in transfusion at the time.”

“Harvey’s Lab Tour” visitors get a first-hand look at how samples are analysed in the Haematology Lab

For Louise, the benefits of the tour are essential to breaking down some of the potential barriers patients might face in learning more about their treatment, as well as showing the human side of colleagues providing important services ‘behind the scenes.’

“As we can sometimes be a bit hidden in the lab, no one really knows what we do, what qualifications we have and what skills we need to work here,” Louise continues. “The tours give us a bit more visibility and makes the environment a bit less daunting to patients. It also gives the parent a bit of input as well, so they have a clearer understanding of the pathway and how it relates to their treatment.”

Nesa Kelmendi, an Associate Transfusion Practitioner at RCHT, agrees, adding: “It does make the lab seem less alien. Not just from a child’s perspective, but for adults as well. They get to see that we’re human beings who are pleasant to talk to and that we care about the patient’s treatment and the blood we’re dealing with.

Discussing the day’s activities, Thomas explained what parts of the tour he enjoyed most, adding: “My favourite part of the day was when we went into the blood freezer. It was interesting to learn about the different types of blood. It’s like there’s a positive and a negative, but then all the different types of blood as well. I thought it was just a couple of types, but there are loads!”

Thomas’s mum, Karen, also attended the tour. She adds: “This was a great way to understand more about what happens after treatment. We didn’t realise how 24/7 it was and how many processes there are once the blood is taken. It’s been interesting and has given Thomas something to really think about and potentially lots of possible jobs that you might never have thought about in the hospital. So yes, really valuable, and we were both very grateful to be included on the day.”

As we celebrate Biomedical Science Day on 6 June, its so important to be able to shine a light on these valuable services.

Concluding, Nesa Kelmendi adds: “If anyone is interested in the work that goes on in the labs and wants to read more about it, then there is lots of information available on the Institute of Biomedical Sciences web page. You can also find out about what goes on in the lab. It’s an exciting career, an interesting job, and an innovative, high-tech place to work, so please do have a look if you want some further information.

Colleagues from RCHT celebrate Biomedical Science Day 2024

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