Royal Hospital for Sick Children - Edinburgh


In 1928/29 Parliament, with Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister, passed an Act which permitted Town Councils to institute Municipal Hospitals and every town hastened to convert their Poor Law Institutions in this manner. Edinburgh Council set up the Western General and the Eastern General Hospitals. The Edinburgh Northern Group of hospitals were the Western General, the Northern General, Eastern General and Leith Hospitals. Dr CP Stewart was appointed on a part time basis as Biochemist in Charge of the biochemistry service for the group and much of the work was done in his university department, although a laboratory was opened at the Western General Hospital in 1937.

In 1946 the Health and Social Welfare Department of Edinburgh Town Council funded a full time biochemist for the Group and there was a demand for additional laboratory facilities at the Western General Hospital. A disused wash house was converted and can be considered to have been the first Clinical Chemistry Laboratory in the Western General Hospital. The graduate staff, which consisted of one person, was seconded from Dr CP Stewart's university department and there were two technicians. Dr Elizabeth Gilchrist, who succeeded the first lady holder of the graduate post shortly after the laboratory was opened, remained in this temporary accommodation until 1950, when she returned to the Royal infirmary.

Dr Sidney Lionel Tompsett, a Senior Lecturer in Clinical Chemistry, succeeded Gilchrist and the laboratory was transferred to the Northern General Hospital where more accommodation was made available, again on a temporary basis. The Northern General Hospital had been the Pilton Hospital for Infectious Diseases for the Port of Leith before Leith and Edinburgh amalgamated in 1922. It then became a Tuberculosis Sanatorium. The Biochemistry Laboratory shared a former isolation ward with the Bacteriology Laboratory which had also moved from the Western General Hospital. The north end of the block was occupied by Bacteriology and the south end by Biochemistry. In 1962 Bacteriology moved to their new department in the Western General Hospital and the full laboratory area, approximately 1,100 square feet, was devoted to biochemistry. There were two sections of laboratory, separated by the X-ray Department and linked by a corridor. Such a unit was difficult to operate efficiently. There was only one part time typist but no office facility. In 1950 the technical staff was increased to six and there was no addition to this number until another was appointed in 1962. There were two further additions in 1963 and a fourth in 1964. The Chief Technician was Dennis Smith who retired in 1969.

In 1952 a Senior Biochemist was established to provide Assistant Biochemist and William Forshall was appointed to this post. (ref: 65, 91, 101)

Forshall had worked in the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh (1926 to 1934), Birmingham (1934 to 1948) and Sheffield (1948 to 1952). He studied on a part time basis for a PhD on the metabolism of ascorbic acid in rheumatoid arthritis and graduated in 1958. He resigned from the National Health Service, on medical advice, in 1962 and was appointed as a Research Assistant in the Department of Clinical Chemistry at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. He retired in 1969 and died in 1990. (ref: 91)

In 1962 William Edwards was appointed as Senior Biochemist to succeed Forshall. He had previously worked as a Basic Grade Biochemist at the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle. Edwards worked in Tompsett's room. At that time, no printed books of clinical biochemistry laboratory methods were readily available and Tompsett provided hand written copies of the methods in use for Edwards to make copies of his own. (ref: 65)

Tompsett was much liked by his staff and very approachable. He would not allow female staff to perform faecal analyses and he would deal with these estimations himself. (ref: 65)

In 1963, following a memorandum from Tompsett, a sub-committee was appointed by the Clinical Staff Committee of the Western General Hospital to examine and make recommendations on the biochemistry service to the hospital. The committee was very conscious that the service was required to be provided or the whole of the Northern Group of hospitals. Several important points were emphasised in the memorandum and these included the fact there had been a marked increase in the amount of work from 17,000 tests in 1952 to at least 63,000 in 1963; that the service was provided for a total of 1,119 beds; that there had been a failure to provide suitable facilities to meet the rising demand and a failure to increase the numbers of senior personnel and to provide trainees; that the laboratory accommodation was inadequate, the equipment had not been updated or replaced by mechanised instruments and that research and development facilities were not available. It was also noted that no quality control was carried out on the work in the laboratory, that the reliability of results could not be ensured due to lack of supervision due to staff shortage, that the supervision and training of staff was inadequate, that technicians were not allowed to attend day release classes, that the laboratory was not able to provide a service involving radioactive techniques or for paediatric, hormonal or enzyme investigations. Another serious problem was the lack of provision of an adequate out of hours emergency service due to the shortage of sufficiently skilled staff. It was obvious that the academic units in the Northern Hospital Group had been at a real disadvantage compared with the units in the Royal Infirmary as far as biochemical facilities for special interests were concerned. (ref: 101)

The Research and Teaching Centre had been set up in the Western General Hospital in 1958 following an agreement between Edinburgh University and the South-East Regional Hospital Board to provide facilities for the academic staff at the Western General Hospital. Credit was due to Dr CP Stewart and Dr JA Strong, Consultant Physician at the Western General for the provision of this centre. There was one graduate, initially Dr Christine Thomson, a Lecturer in CP Stewart's department, and three members of technical staff. Limited facilities were available to the clinical staff at the Western General Hospital for research and, by 1962, it was accepted that better opportunities would be available if the biochemical laboratory structure, staff and equipment, were upgraded and the laboratory returned to the Western General from its temporary accommodation at the Northern General Hospital. (ref: 101)

It was clear that there was almost a complete absence of physical and intellectual contact between the biochemistry graduate staff and the clinical staff in the hospitals for which the service was provided. There was no plan to cope with the unsatisfactory service or to provide an adequate and effective service for the proposed increase in work required by the Metabolic, Renal Transplant, Genetic, Neurological and Radiotherapy Units which were planned to be introduced by 1967. (ref: 101)

The sub-committee's recommendations included the transfer of the laboratory from the University to the N.H.S., the establishment of a Principal Biochemist post and improved secretarial services. In 1964, Tompsett returned to the Royal Infirmary to take charge of the Toxicology Sub-Unit and Fred Scandrett, from Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, took charge of the department until 1966. In 1966 David B Horn was appointed as Top Grade Biochemist, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Clinical Chemistry and Head of the Department of Clinical Chemistry for Edinburgh Northern and Western Hospitals.

Horn started his career in 1945 as a laboratory technician in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. He left to follow a full time course of study at Heriot-Watt College in 1952, obtained an Associateship of Heriot-Watt College in Applied Chemistry (with distinction and college medal) in 1954 and returned as a PhD student under CP Stewart. On completion of his PhD in 1956, he was appointed as Senior Biochemist at the Glasgow Western Infirmary. He was appointed as Senior Biochemist and deputy to the late Garfield Thomas in Birmingham in 1959 In the same year, he was appointed as Principal Biochemist in Newcastle upon Tyne where he was later (1964) appointed as Top Grade Biochemist. He retired in 1987 and died in 2000. (ref: 48)

Raymond Heyworth was appointed to the newly established Principal Biochemist post in 1966 and he transferred to the Royal Infirmary in 1978. He died in 2016.

Mrs E Neill was appointed as departmental secretary.

In the late 1960s the laboratory was transferred to the Western General Hospital where it shared a new building with the Haematology and Human Genetics Departments. This latter department provided specimens for analysis by the Clinical Chemistry Department for alpha foetoprotein assay for the diagnosis of neural tube defects. The biochemist staff was increased and new equipment was provided for the department. These developments were paralleled by a marked increase in the work load. (ref: 48,65,80,101)

In 1978, Shirley M Stein from Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, was appointed as Principal Biochemist and she left to become Mrs Blair in 1982.

In 1978, Gillian Blundell, from Belfast, was appointed as Consultant. She became Head of Department when Horn retired and she retired in 1995.

In 1983, Heather M Barbour was appointed as Principal Biochemist. Barbour had been Principal Biochemist in Dundee for about a year, having previously been at St Mary's Hospital, London and Welwyn Garden City. She was appointed as Top Grade Biochemist in Winchester in 1992.

J Peter Ashby, from Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow, was appointed as Top Grade Biochemist in 1987. He retired in 2014.

Among other biochemists who were appointed to the department in the 1970s were Wendy D Langmuir (later Moth), who came from Reading and was appointed in 1970 to Vale of Leven Hospital and subsequently to the Isle of Wight, SM (Peggie) Stokes (later Lamplugh), who moved to Liverpool, Hilary J Shaw, Anne Irvine (later Hutchison), Susan A Law, John L Pritchard, who had moved from Ashington to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 1968 and who was seconded to the Western General in 1970, Iain P Ross, who moved to Edmonton, Canada in 1973, John D Hayes, who took up an appointment at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 1981 and W Gordon Brydon who was appointed to the Wolfson Gastro-Intestinal Research Laboratory.

Susan A Law, who graduated BSc in Dundee and MSc in Newcastle, was appointed in1979 and retired as Susan Walker in 2019.

Philip Wenham, who came from Shewsbury and Birmingham ((1975 - 76) to take up a Basic Grade appointment in 1976, was appointed as Senior (1978), studied for his PhD under AF Smith (1980 to 1985) and was appointed Principal (1987) Biochemist and later appointed as Top Grade Biochemist and then as Top Biochemist in Fife in 2003. He retired in 2016.

John A Fyffe, who came from Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, in 1974, took an appointment in Glasgow in 1978, was appointed Principal and then Top Grade Biochemist in Welwyn Garden City in the 1980s and as Top Grade Biochemist in the Glasgow Royal Hospital for Sick Children in 2003. He retired in 2009 and died in 2010.

W Gordon Brydon, from the Edinburgh Royal Hospital for Sick Children, was appointed to the Wolfson GI Research Laboratory in 1976.

Catherine H Shearing, who came from Rochdale in 1981, won the 1988 John King Award with a paper titled "The measurement of cyclosporin in whole blood by HPLC". She retired in 2016 and became a Fellow of the ACB in 2022.

Rachel Wilmot was appointed as a biochemist in 1988, on completion of her PhD at the Steroid Lab in Leeds (under Bob Oakey). She moved to Pinderfields in Wakefield in 1995 and was appointed to the Hull Royal Infirmary as Principal Biochemist in 2001 and as Top Grade in 2003.

Peter WH Rae, Senior Registrar from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, was appointed as Consultant in 1996.

Susan Knox, won the 2003 John King Award with a paper titled, "Thiopurine methyltransferase polymorphisms"

Rebecca Pattenden, from Selly Oak, Birmingham, and Senior Biochemist in Dundee from 2001, was appointed as Principal Biochemist in Kircaldy, Fife, in 2006. She was appointed as Consultant Biochemist at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh in 2013 and as Specialty Lead in 2014.

Neil Squires was appointed as a Grade A Trainee in 2003 and later as Senior Biochemist at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

Helen Falconer was a trainee in 2013 when she ran in the London Marathon in aid of Children Living with Inherited Metabolic Diseases (CLIMB). She took up an appointment with UKNEQAS in 2014.

Harriet Hale, who took part in the Scientist Training Programme at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee under the supervision of Bill Bartlett from 2014 to 2017, was appointed as a Senior Clinical Scientist in November 2017. She was the East of Scotland trainee representative for the ACB from 2016 and became the Meetings Secretary for the Scottish Region of the ACB in 2018.

Helen Wise was a member of staff in 2019.

Bangour and Livingston Hospitals

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Last updated August 2022