The first laboratory was established by the Lanark County Council in 1903. Being a "county" service, it was located in the then County Buildings in Hamilton (now the Hamilton Sheriff Court). The laboratory was designated Bacteriological and Pathological Laboratory. It performed more than a Public Health Laboratory function and, from the start, General Practitioners were encouraged to submit specimens for analysis. The head of the laboratory was a Bacteriologist/Pathologist, Joseph Hume Patterson, who, it is believed, came from Edinburgh to work in the Glasgow Western Infirmary as a "lab boy". He left Hamilton to become the Medical Officer of Health for Lanarkshire ca. 1926/28 and was succeeded by Dr Brownlie who occupied the post for a short period before moving to Edinburgh. (ref: 40)
In 1930 T. Gow Brown (a descendant of Neil Gow, the 18th century "Prince of Scottish Fiddlers") was appointed from TJ Mackie's department in Edinburgh to the Hamilton laboratory. Gow Brown's appointment was designated "Landward/Burghal" as the laboratory provided a service for the Burghs in Lanarkshire as well as the County. (The five Burghs were Airdrie & Coatbridge, Hamilton, Lanark, Motherwell & Wishaw and Rutherglen. The remainder of the County was designated the Landward Area and was divided into three Wards - Upper, Middle and Lower.) The Burghs were charged for samples which were received for assay from their area. The Ward system was abolished ca. 1934, the District Office for the Middle Ward became the County Public Health Department and the laboratory was moved to their premises in Beckford Street in Hamilton: this was adjacent to the original building and is now the Area Office of the Lanarkshire Health Board. (ref: 40)
In December 1944 the Public Health (Landward-Burghal) Committee considered the case for extending the facilities in Hamilton. The workload of "bacteriological, serological, pathological, biochemical, haematological and sundry odd specimens" (over 50,000 specimens per annum) had resulted in regular working of overtime by the staff. Although the need for increased staff was recognised at that time, nothing was done about the proposed reorganisation at that time. The staff and their salaries which were recorded at that time were:-
Bacteriologist (Gow Brown) £1000 plus £105 bonus
Qualified assistant (R Sutherland) £350 plus £78 bonus
Qualified assistant (R Herbertson) £250 plus £78 bonus
Unqualified assistant (J Gardiner) £250 plus £78 bonus Unqualified assistant (A Bayne) £145
Unqualified assistant (J Kirk) £90 plus £31 bonus
In addition, there were 2 clerkesses and a bottle cleaner. Robert (Bob) Herbertson was the Senior Chief MLSO in Microbiology in Monklands District General Hospital, Airdrie, when he retired in the 1980s and he died in 1993.
The laboratory in Hamilton was taken into the N.H.S. in January 1950, renamed the Regional Laboratory and Gow Brown was designated Laboratory Director. (ref: 28,40)
A second laboratory was established in the County Fever Hospital in Motherwell around 1936. Eric Rankin was in technical charge until he died of tuberculosis in the late 1950s. Although it was initially administered from Hamilton, this Laboratory became an integral part of the County Fever hospital in the 1940s. In the 1950s the County Fever Hospital was amalgamated with adjacent Burgh of Motherwell Infectious Diseases Hospital and renamed Strathclyde Hospital. (ref: 40)
Edwin Hambly, who retired as chief MLSO at Stonehouse Hospital, Lanarkshire, in 1987, started his laboratory career at Strathclyde Hospital in 1939. He moved to Law Hospital in 1949 and to Stonehouse Hospital in 1950.
Bruce Woodger, who had visited Strathclyde from Glasgow Royal Infirmary as required to perform post mortems, was appointed as Senior Registrar in 1952 and took charge of the laboratory. While there, he also performed post mortem examinations at Stonehouse and other Lanarkshire Hospitals (other than Law Hospital). He returned to Glasgow Royal Infirmary ca 1954 and was appointed as Consultant at Hairmyres Hospital in 1956.
At the start of World War II the Emergency Medical Services (E.M.S.) extended Hairmyres Sanatorium and Colony, at East Kilbride, and the County Orthopaedic Hospital at Stonehouse with E.M.S. huts and a laboratory and built a new hospital outside Law Village. These became the first General Hospitals in Lanarkshire; prior to 1939 Lanarkshire County had only 187 general hospital beds for a population of 508112. (ref: 13, 40, 152)
The Regional Laboratory, in Hamilton, moved into a converted ward in Strathclyde Hospital in 1963 and it amalgamated with the hospital laboratory and the outpatient laboratory in 1967. (The fittings which were ripped out of the old laboratory in Hamilton included teak benches - some of which it is rumoured made excellent coffee tables.) Gow Brown retired in February 1966 and Arthur O'Hea, from Robroyston Hospital, Glasgow, was appointed as Consultant Bacteriologist in May 1966.
In the mid-1960s a van collection service for the General Practitioners' specimens was established. Prior to this, when the laboratory received specimens by post, "kits" containing specimen containers and stamped addresses envelopes were returned with the laboratory reports. During a postal strike a van was sent as a temporary measure to collect specimens from several of the GPs and it was found to be cost effective to operate a regular van service (with a car being hired on the days when the van was being maintained). (ref: 40)
The staff at Strathclyde Hospital formed the nucleus of the new departments in Monklands District General Hospital, Airdrie, when it opened in 1976. The main laboratory at Strathclyde was closed at that time, although on-site glucose assays continued to be provided at the busy diabetic clinic held in the hospital. O'Hea was appointed as Consultant Bacteriologist at Monklands Hospital and died in office in 1982. The North Lanarkshire Division of Laboratory Medicine established an Arthur O'Hea Memorial Prize which was presented to the best H.N.C. student in North Lanarkshire from 1983 to 1990. (ref: 40)
Prior to the reorganisation of the N.H.S. in 1974, the hospitals in Lanarkshire were associated with six different Boards of Management, all of which came under the Western Regional Hospital Board. In 1974, there were laboratories at Bellshill Maternity, Cleland, Coathill, Hairmyres, Law, Stonehouse and Strathclyde Hospitals. In 1971, a Working Party chaired by Dr JW Whitelaw, prepared as report entitled "Rationalisation of Laboratory Services in Lanarkshire" which was presented to the Western Regional Hospital Board in 1973.
This proposed the amalgamation of Hairmyres Hospital Laboratory with the Victoria Infirmary, Glasgow, Laboratory, the formation of a Division of Laboratory Medicine and a rationalisation of the remainder of the laboratory services. This included a proposal to centralise Biochemistry and Haematology services at Law Hospital and the plans for the laboratories at Monklands District General Hospital were for Bacteriology and Pathology services only. The Division was formed in the Autumn of 1972 and an Technicon SMA 6/60 and a Coulter S were purchased for the laboratories at Law Hospital to handle the workload. However, by the Spring of 1973 the Victoria Infirmary / Hairmyres Hospital plan was abandoned due to the costs involved and an alternative scheme involving a rationalisation based on Bellshill, Hairmyres and Strathclyde Hospitals was considered. The staff from these three hospitals resigned from the Division and, on 31st July 1973, a second Division (originally called The Airdrie District General Hospital and Associated Laboratories Division of Laboratory Medicine and later called The North Lanarkshire Division of Laboratory Medicine) was inaugurated. Proposals were made for four laboratory disciplines to be sited at Monklands Hospital and a Consultant was approved for Haematology in November 1973 and for Biochemistry in November 1974. Both appointments were filled, the latter by a Top Grade Biochemist, on 1st May 1976. (ref: 18, 28, 40)
One factor which had been against the original proposals was the quality of road communications across the county. As Arthur O'Hea recalled a decade later, they (the Western Regional Hospital Board) were planning to have a single laboratory to serve Lanarkshire, with the distances between hospitals of up to 20 miles, at a time when they were building a new laboratory in Glasgow at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children; this was so close to the laboratory at the Glasgow Western Infirmary that O'Hea considered he could drive the distance with a number one iron on a good day.
In 1976 Professor LG Whitby and Dr SH Davies reviewed the provision of laboratory services in the Lanarkshire Health Board Area. Their report, among many other points, noted that staffing of the laboratories had failed to keep up with the growing workloads and increasing complexity of laboratory investigations and it presented the staffing implications of various organisational options which were considered. The impetus of their report, together with a companion report on the levels of MLSO staffing by William Bertram (Principal MLSO at Monklands Hospital from 1976 to 1984), a report of the Lanarkshire ASSAC Working Party (chaired by W Bertram) which considered the recommendations of the Howie Report ("Code of Practice for the Prevention of Infection in Clinical Laboratories and Post-Mortem Rooms" - London: HMSO, 1979) and the more favourable financial climate produced by the provisions of the SHARE Report ("Scottish Health Authorities Revenue Expenditure"; SHHD Report, mid 1970s), led to significant improvements in staffing and in laboratory facilities.
Lanarkshire - Law and Wishaw General Hospitals
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