A love of the TV drama Quincy has led to a career in pathology spanning almost 30 years for Helen Botwood.
Helen has been the Pathology Support Manager at Milton Keynes Hospital for the past ten years, previously working as a biomedical scientist specialising in haematology and blood transfusion.
She heads up the Pathology Support Unit, a team of 33, comprising phlebotomists, clinical support workers and porters.
Helen said: “I originally wanted to be a vet but I needed straight As for that. I was a big fan of Quincy, a forensic pathologist, and my mum’s friend managed to get me work experience at the QE2 Hospital where I saw the biomedical scientists at work. It wasn’t Quincy but it really interested me.”
She qualified as a biomedical scientist while working at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital and then moved to Milton Keynes.
She said: “There are 140 plus people here working in pathology. Our job is to analyse samples – blood, urine, faeces, nail clippings, sputum, tissue – you name it, we’ll analyse it.”
The department receives on average 1,800 requests per day for tests in biochemistry, haematology and immunology, with a further 1,000 for microbiology and 500 each for histology and transfusion.
Helen said: “Those numbers are just for the actual pieces of paper we receive. Each request usually comes with at least six tests needed. It is a staggering number and our job is to make sure all samples received by the lab are correctly labelled, inputted into the computer system and either processed at Milton Keynes or sent to referral hospitals.
“We are the great unsung. A lot of people don’t know pathology exists but we want them to know we are a proactive team who care about the hospital and want to help people out there. We hold tours once a month for members of the local Patient Participation Groups and hospital staff are always welcome to visit the department.”
While specialising in haematology and blood transfusion, Helen was responsible for looking for a wide range of diseases, including leukaemia, malaria, HIV, sickle cell anaemia and thalassemia, as well as clotting disorders affecting haemophiliac patients.
She said: “Unfortunately pathology gets really interesting when someone is very ill. It is like being a detective, identifying a disease and finding the best treatment.”
Once she even helped to save someone’s life directly when a “major bleeder” was in surgery. At that time Helen was working in the blood transfusion laboratory, which is staffed all the time.
She said: “I received three bleeps from various members of the team saying I’d made a real difference. My kids were always asking me when I got home if I’d saved anyone’s life and that day I was able to say yes. It is very rewarding to know you have helped to save a patient’s life.”
Since becoming the Pathology Support Manager and also the Acting Systems Manager for the past year, Helen’s role has become more paperwork and people based.
Her work includes working closely with the phlebotomy team to ensure safe practice and timely phlebotomy, keeping procedure documents up-to-date, chairing meetings, setting up tests on the pathology system, liaising with IT professionals in the Trust as well as in GP practices and with suppliers and overseeing her team. Helen played a key role in rolling out ICE, a system used to allow GPs, hospital staff and other clinicians across Milton Keynes to access and place their patients’ pathology results and requests.
She is also responsible for ensuring all processes are up-to-date and that the Pathology Support Unit meets the high standards expected by Clinical Pathology Accreditation (CPA).
She said: “Our laboratory is one of the few labs in the country to have maintained its accreditation standards for the last eight years. There is always something different that comes through the door, which makes it a challenging job but a very satisfying one.”