The work of the pathology department at Barnsley Hospital underpins every aspect of patient care – from diagnostic testing to preventing disease. The department can receive up to 4,900 patient samples a day for analysis including blood, sputum, urine and faeces.

The department’s analyser machines are capable of processing 2,400 tests every hour. Several times a day, samples of biological fluids arrive via deliveries from Barnsley and Rotherham GPs. There are around 50 staff working in blood sciences in total. However, throughout the night and at weekends the department is staffed with one biomedical scientist (BMS) from chemistry and one BMS from haematology, with support at the weekends from a medical laboratory assistant. Pathology is also staffed by others working in microbiology and histopathology (tissue samples/biopsies).

Routine tests are carried out to assess renal, liver and cardiac function, and to diagnose diabetes and even diseases like malaria. The lab is a busy place where robotic ‘loaders’ load blood samples on to a track and then the samples go to a centrifuge to separate out the serum from the blood. The lab can also analyse thyroid and fertility test results, full blood counts and issue blood products for use in transfusions.

Biomedical Scientist Amy-Louise Turton, 31, explained: “We have certain test ranges for various substances like sodium and potassium and if the results are outside these ranges, we have to flag them to the relevant ward. Results can be too low as well as too high, and there is a quite a long list of substances we test for. For example, we test for bilirubin in babies.” Bilirubin is a yellow substance created from the breakdown of old red blood cells and new-born jaundice occurs when a baby has a high level of bilirubin.

Haematology (blood) samples are only stable for one day. Samples are stored in a cold store after analysis, and discarded appropriately. Each patient’s results are identified with a unique access number and a barcode.

New equipment on the way

The pathology department is looking forward to having some new high-tech equipment in the near future. Amy, who has worked at the Barnsley Trust for four years, said: “We have three chemistry analysers and three immunoassay analysers which run all day until 10pm. After this time we run two analysers throughout the night for the work we receive from A&E and wards.”

The analysers work hard as they are running 24/7. The department has new equipment due in October this year. However, a lengthy installation process will need to be carried out before it can be used to analyse patient samples.

The biochemistry team also visits hospital wards regularly to ensure that vital medical equipment is maintained and checked. “We check gas machines, glucose meters every day and urine analysis machines are quality checked every week,” said Amy, who studied for her degree in Biomedical Science part-time at Hull.

She added: “We wouldn’t be able to have an A&E department without pathology, and for A&E we need to turn the samples around in an hour. It is such an important part of what the hospital does and the pressure will only increase as people are living longer and the incidence of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease is on the rise.”