How life in hospital labs has changed

10 July 2018 - Former lab technician says hospital used to be like 'small villages'

George Deane

A laboratory technician who worked at King’s for more than 40 years the lab says that so much has changed since he started work in 1960.

When George Deane, 75, started his career at the age of 17, he worked at Dulwich, St Giles and Belgrave Children’s Hospitals. He moved to King’s in 1968, when they took over the management of the group of hospitals.

“I started off in general pathology, then specialised in microbiology and then later in haematology,” said George. “Back then each hospital had its own staff, so it was a bit like a small village with plumbers, electricians, builders, painters and everything else that was needed on site. It was a very pleasant working environment.

“When I first started none of the nurses were married as it wasn’t allowed back then. They all lived on site, in the nurses’ accommodation blocks. At Belgrave Hospital lunch would not start until everyone was seated. The matron would come in last and say grace. The consultants would have their own dining areas.”

George, pictured in the 1960s, said that many lab techniques have changed considerably since the 1960s. “There were no plastics,” he said. “All syringes and needles were re-used. They were cleaned, re-sharpened and then sterilised. Most tubing was rubber, blood was kept in glass bottles.

“We used to practise mouth pipetting,” said George. “That meant using your mouth to suck the samples, including blood and urine, into the pipettes. I suppose it was luck that we didn’t all catch something!” By the mid-1960s disposable needles and plastics were starting to filter into the workplace.

“In the early days the working environment was totally different,” said George. “Although we were busy we never faced the pressures that staff face today. There didn’t used to be so many major operations, no transplants or cardiac surgery so things for us were a bit simpler.”

Pay packets were very different in the 1960s – George says he used to get £260 a year when he first started and that went up to £285 at 18. He added that new starters typically didn’t have degrees as they do now – the lab technicians took professional exams while they worked.

“We had ten-and-a-half day’s holiday a year,” added George. “It might not seem like much now but that was what we were used to.”

Some parts of George’s job were more difficult than others, he explained. “Before they legalised abortion, we used to get lots of women coming in who had had abortions that had gone wrong,” he said. “Many of the women came in on a Friday night – they used to have them done on a Friday as that was payday. If they had a bad infection, we would carry out the tests. Many of those women died, it was really very sad.”

George said another big difference was that there used to be much more collaboration between different trusts.

“We used to be very pally with the lab technicians at different hospitals,” he said. “If we needed some help from Guy’s and St Thomas’s, perhaps a particular piece of equipment, then they would help you out and let you have it, or carry out the test for you. We all used to help each other. Then things changed and we all became very financially competitive so that staff in other trusts wouldn’t help you. It’s a shame that that sort of camaraderie has gone.”

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