Hospital Administrator 2

This is the second instalment of  the memories of a former Hospital Administrator of Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

The great consultant at the hospital was Walpole Lewin, an internationally famous neurosurgeon who had made his name in the Western Desert in World War 2, and was poached from the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford.  He may have been tempted by the prospect of working in a brand new environment.  He was nothing like the ‘Carry On’ image of the overbearing consultant.  When my time came to leave Addenbrooke’s a few years later he concluded the meeting of the Medical Committee, which I serviced, by telling the consultants that I was leaving and how much he, as the Chairman, would miss me.  He also gave me a small personal present.

There were many impressive doctors at Addenbrooke’s, mostly at the Old Site at that time.  There was the Regius Professor of Physic, a haughty and temperamental figure; a Professor of Experimental Medicine, whose title deterred some patients from going to see him; and the first Professor of Surgery, Roy Calne, who gained fame as a pioneering transplant surgeon.  I persuaded him to join the hospital tennis club which I ran.  He ‘had no side on him’ as they say up North.  My favourite consultant was a Dr. Bratherton, a radiotherapist.  Edward De Bono was often to be seen around, talking at length in the dining room.

The new site at that time had some other surprising deficiencies : it did not even have a proper car park – jut a rough ‘hoggin’ park across from the main entrance, with a few tarmaced spaces reserved at the front for consultants.  The hospital dining room was small and used by everyone, so doctors ate alongside cleaners.  (At the Old Site, there was a completely separate doctors’ dining room, which we administrators surprisingly were allowed to use.)  Buses dropped patients in Hills Road rather than doing a tour of the site, as now.

Several novelties were ‘tried out’ in Phase One.  The most notable was the Lamson pneumatic tube system.  This transported small-ish items round the hospital, each tube having a series of rings round it, which were twisted to ‘address’ the tube to its destination.  By the time I arrived, a couple of years after the opening, the system had been abandoned for transporting x-rays and blood specimens: the former because x-ray films had to be folded to fit into the carrier, and potentially damaged, the latter because no-one had foreseen that blood could be centrifuged by the carrier spinning as it travelled.  Still, it was used for everything else which would fit in.  However, an official ‘Evaluation’ of the hospital occurred in about 1967 and I think it concluded that the Lamson system should be abandoned.  This was a pity because all the staff loved playing with it, and I know that the centrifuge problem was solved in the USA where such systems are used in major hospitals to this day.  However, the main rationale was economic; it was thought that staff would do less walking from department to department, and staffing levels for porters could be reduced.  However, staff quite enjoy stretching their legs during a day’s work; and the porters were regularly visiting all departments throughout the day.  The system would probably have come into its own when the hospital grew to its present size.

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