Judith Harper, Clinical Blood Sciences Hub Manager for South West London Pathology

Judith Harper is the Clinical Blood Sciences Hub Manager for South West London Pathology, based at St George’s Hospital. She has worked at St George’s for 23 years in different roles within the pathology service.

The Clinical Blood Sciences Laboratory at St George’s covers the disciplines of chemistry, haematology and blood transfusion and oversees the ED ‘hotlab’, which is based in our Emergency Department.

What does your role normally involve?

I am responsible for managing the smooth running of the laboratory on a day- to-day basis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This involves liaising with staff, plus clinical colleagues and suppliers who provide our testing kits and equipment. The department is a dynamic environment where we are not only reliably running tests, but are also looking to the future to develop new ways of working to support clinical teams across our hospitals.

On average, we receive about 6,000 samples a day from St George’s Hospital – this includes inpatients, outpatients and the community services we support. I am supported by a strong and diverse team – from the staff in pathology reception who receive and register the samples and the biomedical scientists running the analysis, through to our clinical colleagues who interpret and report the results. The team have the patient at the core of everything they do. To us, every test matters.

What has changed about your role given the current situation?

There have been a lot of changes – some of them more sudden and some that have happened gradually over time. Like everywhere, we have had – and continue to have – a number of staff absent from work, either as a result of being unwell or having to self-isolate. This has proved a bit of a challenge, particularly in making sure we have cover for night shifts. The team has really stepped up and has supported the service and each other to make sure that all shifts are covered.

The work we have seen coming through is also changing every day. As GP surgeries stop their routine work and the hospitals scale back some of their outpatient services, the number of samples coming through that route has lessened.

However, the number of samples coming from inpatients and in particular ITU has increased significantly. These tests are critical to help stabilise patients and the team have been processing these tests more quickly so that clinicians can make timely decisions around patient care. We are seeing our clinical colleagues looking after much more complex patients, and are increasingly phoning results through to the wards urgently.

What support do people want from you and your team?

Consistency and reliability! The work we do is crucial to patient management, and clinical teams need to be confident that they can access the right tests when they need them. We are currently still offering the full repertoire of tests, despite all the challenges we have faced, and will continue to do so for as long as possible.

Has anything really surprised/impressed you?

The commitment and positivity of our staff at all levels. The situation has been ever changing and the response from staff has been fantastic. The team has been making suggestions for different ways of working and people have been offering to work whenever and wherever and have been covering shifts at short notice. It has been a team effort to keep our services going and I am so proud of everything that has been achieved so far.

We have also seen generosity from people from around the hospital, from Peabodys making individual snack bags for staff to individual clinicians who have presented the team with chocolates. It is lovely to see such support for our team.

How do you cope with a long and difficult day?

Communication has been a really important part of keeping everyone going and making sure they feel informed and supported. There has also been a real sense of common purpose and pride in working for the NHS and supporting patients and public through the crisis. Everyone is pulling together and the positivity is tangible.