“The Radiology Reset Button – overcoming the normalcy bias”

Fodi KyriakosFodi Kyriakos explores how the COVID-19 pandemic could be the catalyst for change in radiology and encourages our community to grasp the opportunity to “seize the moment”  and plan for recovery.

At the beginning of 2020, if someone had told radiology leaders that all NHS outstanding reporting backlogs would be reduced to virtually zero by May, I’m sure they would have looked at you in disbelief and asked what sorcery had been involved, but this situation is exactly where we find ourselves today.

 

Normalcy Bias – Noun [edit]

normalcy bias (plural normalcy biases)

The phenomenon of disbelieving one’s situation when faced with grave and imminent danger and/or catastrophe. As in over focusing on the actual phenomenon instead of taking evasive action, a state of paralysis.

Historical challenges

In the past, it has often taken lots of effort to either invoke or accept change of any kind in radiology and for those managing services, there’s also been a certain amount of risk associated with putting your head above the parapet or being a trailblazer. It has been sometimes easier to follow the well-trodden path rather than to create a new one. Workloads and budgetary constraints have also been a disabler, restricting decision making to the ‘here and now’. This has resulted in failing, or in most cases, not being able to foresee or plan for events that have never happened before, such as an event like a pandemic crisis. Psychology refers to this state of being as normalcy bias. For those who are not familiar with the term, you will certainly be aware of its connotations and radiology now finds itself at this cross-roads.

Ever since the introduction of digital radiography and PACS, NHS radiology reporting backlogs have been a contentious issue among experts, and a recurring feature in the mainstream media! Often being highlighted (and with some justification) in relation to areas such as missed cancer diagnosis, where even the slightest of delays can have a significant bearing on the overall outcome.

Serious backlogs

The extent to which backlogs were a serious issue in the UK was further exacerbated by various Care Quality Commission (CQC)  inspections, which raised concerns regarding reporting backlogs that resulted in delayed or missed diagnosis of conditions that may have otherwise been picked up.

By the end of February 2020, the situation of backlogs was as much an issue as at any time before. Insufficient reporting capacity had led to a build-up of outstanding reports, which in turn meant that outsourcing was at its highest ever levels and growing pressures to meet new deadlines, such as the cancer pathway targets, were increasingly exposing the lack of options available to resolve the problem.

So, you would have been excused if you thought that a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic would simply exacerbate the reporting challenges facing radiology. However, this has not been the case. Instead, we have witnessed radiology’s own “clear the decks” exercise, where in fact the complete opposite situation has occurred, resulting in backlogs across the UK being virtually eliminated. Who would have thought that the worst crisis to hit the country (and the world) in 75 years would be a catalyst for NHS radiology departments to press the reset button?

Reset image

Of course, we recognise the superficial nature of this situation. During the pandemic, practically all routine referral activity came to a grinding halt, which allowed radiology to concentrate on COVID-19 and Emergency Department (ED) patients. Chest X-rays and CTs were identified as two of the key diagnostic tools for the virus, but the volumes were manageable. Accident and Emergency footfall was reduced to almost 50% of its usual figures, so reporters were practically able to deliver a ‘Hot-Reporting’ examination for every patient requiring imaging. Something which ED and Intensive care unit (ICU) consultants have grown quickly accustomed to.

During this time, radiology was also still required to work to critical staffing levels, so radiographers and radiologists were covering 24/7 rotas, but due to the lack of activity outside of portable X-ray scanning in ICU, many staff were not being utilised. So, while this enabled the catch up in radiology reporting to take place, what we witnessed was the ‘ying and yang’ of radiology. On the one hand, integral to the continuity of a patient’s pathway and critical to defining an outcome – AND on the other hand, completely dependent on throughput from referrers to maintain activity levels.

Seizing the moment!

So what happens next? Well, in a world where we can guarantee almost nothing, in this situation, we can guarantee that radiology will remain the centre point for the recovery phase of the pandemic, but with the added challenge of complying to ‘social distancing’ and ‘equipment cleaning’ guidelines, how do we manage the continuation of treating COVID-19 patients, while reintroducing ‘business as usual’ and ‘deferred’ patients whose treatment has been delayed?

The “Reset Button” has enabled something else to happen. For the first time, there is now some headspace to plan for the recovery phase and for the next phase at least, there is now funding available to support the recovery. So how do we avoid going back to where we were before the pandemic? How do we seize the moment?

Time to make the changes!

Albert Einstein once famously said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” This quote has never been more poignant in the present day and while the pressure to manage change will be at its highest, this is the right time to make these changes happen! With the benefit of ‘The Reset Button’, if we can learn from the past and apply new ways of working moving forward, we can avoid falling into the trap of the normalcy bias and witness the radiology reset button offering a new, efficient and more streamlined radiology department moving forward.

Everything you wanted to know about radiology but were afraid to ask…

On Wednesday 17 June, a live event organised by InHealth, in partnership with The British Institute of Radiology and the Society of Radiographers is taking place, titled: “The Radiology reset button has been pressed”. The aim is to tackle these challenges and support radiology managers as they enter the recovery phase. It will bring together senior figures from radiology and within healthcare to offer insights, opinions and advice on how we can approach this coming period and use what positives we have experienced during the pandemic to create service improvements throughout radiology.

There will be opportunities for radiology managers, clinical leads, radiographers and radiologists to put their questions to the speakers in the panel discussions after their presentations.

REGISTER FOR THE RADIOLOGY RESET BUTTON HAS BEEN PRESSED HERE

(The event is free for all)
About Fodi Kyriakos

Mr Fodi Kyriakos is a former director of RIG Healthcare and founder of RIG Reporting,
the UK’s first provider of external radiographer reporting services. In 2016 he joined The InHealth Group following its acquisition of RIG Reporting and is now the Head of Reporting across the Group. His service specialises in delivering plain film reporting solutions and is the only provider to offer both on-site and telereporting services.
Fodi has over 22 years experience in workforce and staffing solutions and 17 years working exclusive within Imaging and Oncology. He is a member of the Institute of Healthcare Managers and a regular contributor of professional development events across radiology.

 

The flu epidemic of yesteryear: the role of radiology in 1918–20

adrian thomas

Dr Adrian Thomas

100 years ago the UK was facing a fast-moving outbreak of epidemic influenza pneumonia, known as the “Spanish Flu”.

Radiology played an important part in diagnosis, although the crisis was without the scientific knowledge, strategic management and communications we have today. Here, Dr Adrian Thomas explores the six patterns of infection in this unpredictable and powerful disease.

 

 

Radiology is playing a central role in the diagnosis of COVID-19 today, and 100 years ago was also playing an important role in the diagnosis and characterisation of the outbreak of epidemic influenza pneumonia of 1918–1920. A combination of fluoroscopy and radiography was then used, with the occasional utilisation of stereoscopy. The greatest pointer to a diagnosis of epidemic influenza pneumonia in a given patient was the presence of the epidemic, although there were some specific features to indicate the diagnosis. The etiological cause of influenza was not known at the time, being first discovered in pigs by Richard Shope in 1931.

Spanish flu

The epidemic of 1918 far exceeded previous ones in its intensity. It had a high mortality in young adults with the very young and very old being comparatively immune. The associated pneumonia was particularly virulent. In the case of the troopship The Olympic (sister ship of The Titanic) there were 5,951 soldiers on board. Initially there were 571 cases of acute respiratory disease, but within 3 weeks there were 1,668 cases. Of these, 32% had pneumonia, of which 59% died. In any locality the duration of the epidemic was from between 6–8 weeks, and approximately 40% of the population was affected (Osler, 1930).

Six patterns of infection were identified, with correlation of clinical, radiological and post-mortem findings (Sante, 1930., Shanks, et al. 1938). Dr Leroy Sante, the pioneer radiologist from St Louis, described epidemic influenza pneumonia as “the most lawless of the chest infections.” Abscess formation was seen frequently, and was commonly of the small and multiple type. Radiological changes were seen developing day by day, and clinical resolution needed at least six–eight weeks since there had commonly been lung destruction and healing by fibrosis needed to occur.

The patterns were:

Type 1: Peribronchial invasion with infiltrates that enlarge and become confluent forming small areas of consolidation (figures 1 & 2, below). This was not confined to one lobe, but could appear in all lobes as a true bronchopneumonia. This was similar in appearance to ordinary bronchopneumonia.

1Type 1, Influenza bronchopneumonia

Figure 1

2Type 1, Influenza bronchopneumonia_Viewed as from behind

Figure 2

Type 2: Peribronchial invasion with infiltrates that enlarge and become confluent to form solidification of an entire lobe (figure 3, below). The changes remained confined to a single lobe. It was viewed as a true bronchopneumonia but with a lobar distribution (“pseudolobar pneumonia”). Different lobes may be invaded one after another. The pseudolobar pattern was the commonest type, and could resolve without further spread. The presence of previous isolated infiltrates would distinguish this type from common lobar pneumonia. There was a tendency to break down with extensive cavitation.

3Type 2, or pseudo-lobular

Figure 3

Type 3: This starts as blotchy infiltrates that coalesced to form a general haziness over a part of a lung, suggesting a haematogenous origin (figures 4 and 5, below). At post-mortem this was found to be an atypical lobular pneumonia, a “diffuse pneumonitis”, that was so commonly seen during the influenza outbreak. It resembled the streptococcal (septic) pneumonia that was often seen in association with septicaemia when there was no epidemic. The spread was rapid, and the prognosis was poor. Death commonly occurred within the week.

4Type 3, resembling streptococcal (septic) pneumonia

Figure 4

5Type 3, resembling streptococcal (septic) pneumonia

Figure 5

Type 4: A type starting in the hilum and spreading rapidly into the periphery, the so-called “critical pneumonia” (figure 6, below). This was attended with a high mortality. Post-mortem showed a purulent and haemorrhagic infiltration around the larger bronchi. There was often marked cyanosis.

6Type 4, the so-called “critical pneumonia

Figure 6

Type 5: This started in the dependent part of the lungs, with continuous upwards spread (figures 7a and b, below). This was an atypical lobular pneumonia, there was no associated pleural fluid, and it was usually fatal. Initial infection in the costo-phrenic angle spread within 24 hours to involve the lower lung, and death occurred within 48 hours. Clinical features included extreme prostration, high temperature, and delirium. This pattern with rapidly advancing consolidation was seldom seen in other conditions.

7a Type 5. This started in the dependent part of the lungs

Figure 7a

7b Type 5. A film taken 12 hours after 7a

Figure 7b

Type 6. A true lobar pneumonia was only seen rarely.
The prognosis of epidemic influenza pneumonia was difficult to determine. So, as an example, a patient who was resolving would suddenly have changes extend into the other lung and then die. Another patient with successive involvement of all lobes could recover completely. A patient with only minor lung involvement might die, and another with extensive consolidation would recover completely.

Radiologists continue to be in the front line in the treatment of infectious diseases, and although our modalities are now more advanced than a century ago, their contributions remain essential. It is also noteworthy that the simple CXR also remains central.

Figures:

1. Type 1, Influenza bronchopneumonia. Image seen as a positive.

2. Type 1, Influenza bronchopneumonia. Peribronchial clusters of infiltration, with no relation to lobar architecture. Viewed as from behind.

3. Type 2, or pseudo-lobular.

4. Type 3, resembling streptococcal (septic) pneumonia. Image seen as a positive.

5. Type 3, resembling streptococcal (septic) pneumonia. Blotchy ill-defined infiltrates which coalesce to form a general haziness. Viewed as from behind.

6. Type 4, the so-called “critical pneumonia.”

7a. Type 5. This started in the dependent part of the lungs, and this early film shows consolidation in the costophrenic angle (black arrow).

7b. Type 5. A film taken 12 hours after 7a. The lower right lung is consolidated, and the patient died 12 hours later. Post mortem showed a solid lung with no effusion.
Readings:

Osler, William. (1930) The Principles and Practice of Medicine. 11th Edition, Thomas McCrae (Ed.). London: D Appleton.

Sante, Leroy. (1930) The Chest, Roentgenologically Considered. New York: Paul B Hoeber.

Shanks, S Cochrane., Kerley, Peter., Twining, Edward W. (Eds). (1938) A Textbook of X-ray Diagnosis by British Authors. London: H. K. Lewis.

 

Dr Adrian Thomas FRCP FRCR FBIR, BIR Honorary Historian

About Dr Adrian Thomas

Dr Adrian Thomas is a semi-retired radiologist and a visiting professor at Canterbury Christ Church University. He has been President of the Radiology Section of the Royal Society of Medicine, and of the British Society for the History of Medicine. He is the Honorary Historian to the British Institute of Radiology. He has had a long-term interest in role development in radiography, and teaches postgraduate radiographers.

Adrian has written extensively on the history of radiology writing many papers, books and articles. He has, with a colleague, written a biography of the first female radiologist and female hospital physicist: Adrian Thomas and Francis Duck: Edith and Florence Stoney, Sisters in Radiology (Springer Biographies) Springer; 1st ed. 2019 edition (1 July 2019).

© Thomas / 2020

Help! I’m (not) a leader, get me out of here!

Elizabeth Loney

Do you ever wonder how you got where you are? Are you sure you see yourself as others do? 

Dr Elizabeth Loney, Consultant Radiologist and Associate Medical Director,  reflects on imposter syndrome and offers tips on how to manage it.

 

How many times have you sat in a meeting and looked around the room thinking, “what on earth am I doing here? Everyone else knows way more about this than I do, and they know it!”

The first senior management meeting that I attended started with reviewing the minutes of the last. As I read through the document, I realised I had no idea what much of it said—death by TLAs (three letter acronyms!). I nudged the person next to me and said, “what does … stand for?” They shrugged their shoulders and whispered to the person on their other side “what does … mean?” It took five people down the line before someone knew what it was! I found that reassuring, but also slightly scary. The fact that other people were in the same boat made me feel less like an idiot, but at the same time, how could such a senior group not understand the jargon and why had they said nothing? So… lesson one: be curious and not afraid to ask questions. You’re probably just asking what most people are thinking anyway!

About six months ago I started the Nye Bevan Programme with the NHS Leadership Academy. If I pass, I will allegedly have proven myself ready for an NHS executive leadership role. There are around 48 others in my cohort, all senior leaders in different areas of the NHS. What the heck am I doing there?! I’m just a doctor, not a leader. I might sort things out for people as Clinical or Divisional Director but I’ve never felt more like a “public servant” than when in a “leadership role”. I had serious Imposter Syndrome. The first residential was entitled “Knowing Yourself and Others” and was all about the impact you have on others as a leader and why you act as you do—unconscious bias and all. It was a traumatic experience for me. I did so much “reflecting” I felt like a mirror! I couldn’t do it—just give me a few scans to report! I’m not a leader—get me out of here. However, I got chatting to others that week and realised that pretty much everyone else in the room felt the same. Most people suffer with this issue at some time—and if you don’t, why not? A little humility is a wonderful thing.

Are you affected by low self-confidence? At times like this, seeking peer feedback can be helpful. As part of the course I had to send out a questionnaire asking others I had led on a work programme for anonymous feedback. That was scary! I asked questions including “what do I do well?” and “what could I do better?” I half expected to be slated but, to my surprise, the feedback was really positive. My view of myself was distorted. I may not see myself as a leader but apparently others do! So… lesson two: when you feel like an imposter remember that many others in the room feel the same way. There must be a reason why you are there. What do others see in you, that you do not? What is your role in the group? ‘If not you… who?’

So ends my first blog as Chair of the BIR Leadership and Management SIG… another position I find myself in wondering how I got here! What do I know about leadership? I’m not an expert. However, I do have a passion for self-improvement and a curious nature. Why not join me on my journey to “managerial enlightenment”? We have such a lot to learn from one another.

I hope to meet you in person at the BIR Annual Congress where we will gain inspiration from excellent speakers covering topics on “practical” and “personal” management, including an interactive session by Philips based on their “Insights” programme—expect to be up on your feet! We are also holding our first annual event on leadership, “Leadership 2020” on 31 January 2020. Come along and join us for more opportunities to learn, network and ask questions.

See you there!

Dr Elizabeth Loney,

Chair of the BIR Leadership and Management Special Interest Group

BIR LEADERSHIP 2020 event 31 January 2020

More about the BIR leadership and management SIG here 

Join the open SIG here  (BIR member only)

About Dr Elizabeth Loney

Dr Elizabeth Loney is Chair of the BIR Leadership and Management Special Interest Group (SIG). She is a Consultant Radiologist and Associate Medical Director and Consultant Radiologist at Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust.

 

Radiotherapy: 40 years from tracing paper to tomotherapy

NHS

Physicist Andy Moloney and Clinical Oncologist David Morgan reflect on how radiotherapy developed since their early careers

 

We first met in the autumn of 1981, when the NHS was, at 33 years from its inception, but a youngster. Andy had recently joined the Radiotherapy Physics staff at Nottingham General Hospital after graduating in Physics from the University of Nottingham, and David was returning to the clinical Department of Radiotherapy and Oncology after a year’s Fellowship at the Institut Gustave-Roussy in France. A firm friendship rapidly developed, one that continues to this day.

On reflection, joining the radiotherapy fraternity at that time was a leap of faith. The perceived wisdom amongst many of our scientific and clinical colleagues at the time was that this treatment technique was outdated and overshadowed by radical surgical procedures, new chemotherapy agents and biological modifiers poised to reduce radiotherapy to the history books.

picture 063This was a time when, in this Cinderella of specialties, physics planning was achieved by the superposition of two dimensional radiation plots (isodoses) ,using tracing paper and pencils, to produce summated maps of the distribution. The crude patient outlines were derived from laborious isocentric distance measurements augmented by the essential “flexicurve”. The whole planning process was slow and labour intensive fraught with errors and ridiculed by colleagues in the perceived prestigious scientific and clinical disciplines. The principal platform for external beam radiotherapy delivery, the Linear Accelerator (LinAc), had also reached something of a plateau of development, albeit with improved reliability, but few fundamental changes. Caesium tubes were transported from the “radium safe”, locked in an underground vault, to the operating theatre in a lead-lined trolley, where they were only loaded into “central tubes” and “ovoids” after the examination under anaesthetic (which was performed with the patient in the knee-chest position); they were then manually placed into the patient, who went to be nursed on an open ward, albeit behind strategically placed lead barriers.

For no sites outside the cranium was Computer Tomography (CT) scanning available. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) was still a vision seen only by a small number of enthusiasts.

All these limitations were met by a developing team of scientific and clinical enthusiasts believing in the future of radiotherapy if only technology could deliver solutions to address an improving understanding of the differing cancers and their radiobiology.

picture 066In the latter half of the eighties these solutions began to crystallise. Computers were being introduced across the NHS and their impact was not lost in radiotherapy. Pads of tracing paper were replaced with the first generation of planning computers. The simple “Bentley-Milan” algorithms could account for patient outlines accurately and speedily and optimising different beam configurations became practical. Consideration of Organs at Risk, as defined by the various International Commission on Radiation Units (ICRU) publications, became increasingly relevant. Recognition of the importance of delineating the target volumes and protecting normal tissue required improved imaging and this was provided by the new generation of CT scanners. In the nineties these were shared facilities with diagnostic radiology departments. However, the improvements provided by this imaging, enabling accurate 3-dimensional mapping of the disease with adjacent normal tissues and organs at risk, dictated their inclusion into every radiotherapy department soon after the millennium. The added bonus of using the grey scale pixel information, or Hounsfield numbers, to calculate accurate radiation transport distributions soon followed when the mathematical and computer technology caught up with the task. The value of MR and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging was also recognised in the diagnosis, staging and planning of radiotherapy and the new century saw all of these new technologies embedded within the department.

Mould room technology was also improving with “instant” thermoplastic immobilisation shells replacing the uncomfortable plaster and vacuum forming methods. Custom shielding with low melting high density alloys was becoming routine and it was not long before these techniques were married with the emerging CT planning to provide “conformal” treatments.

picture 067LinAc technology also received added impetus. Computers were firstly coupled as a front end to conventional LinAcs as a safety interface to reduce the potential for “pilot error”. Their values were soon recognised by the manufacturers and were increasingly integrated into the machine, monitoring performance digitally and driving the new developments of Multi Leaf Collimators (MLC) and On Board Imaging (OBI).

The dominos for the radiotherapy renaissance were stacked up, but it needed the radiographers, clinicians and scientists to decide on the direction of travel. Computer power coupled with advanced electro-mechanical design had transformed MLC efficiency and resolution. Conventional conformal planning was now progressively superseded by sophisticated planning algorithms using merged CT and MR images. Intensity Modulated RadioTherapy (IMRT) had arrived in its evolving guises of multiple fixed field, dynamic arc therapy (RapidArc) or Tomotherapy. Whichever technique, they all offered the radiotherapy “Holy Grail” of providing three dimensional homogeneous dose distributions conformed to the Planning Target Volume (PTV) whilst achieving the required dose constraints for organs at risk and normal tissue preservation.

The tools had arrived, but an infrastructure to introduce these “toys” safely into a complex clinical background had also developed alongside. Quality standards (ISO9000), Clinical Trials, Multi Disciplinary Teams and Peer Review were governance mandates for all oncology departments and radiotherapy was leading the way. In forty years, radiotherapy had lost the “Cinderella” image and had been invited back to the clinical ball. Noticeably, breast and prostate adenocarcinoma constituted half of the radical workload.

The question remains of how and why did this transformation occur? Obviously the developing computer power and technology were the pre-requisites for many of the developments, but a key catalyst was the foresight of all of the radiotherapy family from which enduring friendships have been forged. The working lives of the clinicians and physicists involved in radiotherapy planning have probably changed more dramatically than those of any other medical and paramedical groups over the last 35 years.

We may have retired, but we still cogitate about the future direction and science behind this developing and essential cancer treatment and look forward to our younger colleagues enjoying their careers as much as we enjoyed ours.

 


About David Morgan

david morganDr David A L Morgan began training in Radiotherapy & Oncology as a Registrar in 1977, and in 1982 was appointed a Consultant in the specialty in Nottingham, continuing to work there until his retirement in 2011. He joined the BIR in 1980 and at times served as Chair of its Oncology Committee and a Member of Council. He was elected Fellow of the BIR in 2007. He is author or co-author of over 100 peer-reviewed papers on various aspects of Oncology and Radiobiology.

 

About Andrew Moloney

andy moloneyAndy Moloney completed his degree in Physics at Nottingham University in 1980 before joining the Medical Physics department at the Queens Medical Centre in the same city. After one year’s basic training in evoked potentials and nuclear medicine, he moved to the General Hospital in Nottingham to pursue a career in Radiotherapy Physics and achieved qualification in 1985. Subsequently, Andy moved to the new radiotherapy department at the City Hospital, Nottingham, where he progressed up the career ladder until his promotion as the new head of Radiotherapy Physics at the North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary in Stoke-on-Trent. Over the next twenty years Andy has acted as Clinical Director for the oncology department and served on the Radiation Physics and Oncology Committees at the BIR and was appointed a Fellow in 2007. He has been the author and co-author of multiple peer reviewed articles over the years prior to his retirement in 2017.

 

When medical physicists wore white coats

NHS

Dr Edwin Aird shares his memories of the revolution he has experienced working in the medical physics department.

 

Edwin Aird portrait

While I was an undergraduate at Newcastle University (1962), the 2nd year honours group was invited to visit the Medical Physics Department at Newcastle General Hospital. I was so impressed with the department and the range of things they were doing and the application of physics to medicine that I wrote to Professor Frank Farmer (Head of Department at that time) to ask about working there. He responded with a proposal that I apply for a special research grant that he was hoping for locally and that I write again after my graduation.

The following year I got in touch with Frank Farmer again and was accepted on an MSc grant to study “In-homogeneities in Radiotherapy”; one year in the first instance (on a grant of about £700).

Meeting 1970 1

I can’t now remember my first day exactly; not sure what office I had, but I do remember the Professor’s insistence on donning a white coat (provided and laundered by the hospital) when arriving at work, This ‘uniform’ was thought to be a vital sign to patients that physicists were part of the ‘clinical’ team.

I divided my time in that first year between research and clinical work (interestingly, this was part of the philosophy of some of the early physicists, many of whom in the 1930s and 40s had transferred from academic physics, including Frank Farmer); the situation now couldn’t be more different.

Fig 1

Image 1 The gantry mounted linear accelerator at Newcastle General Hospital [ref 2]

So, on the routine side, I began to learn about radiotherapy: its planning and treatment. Newcastle at that time had two cobalt machines (Mobaltron-60s) and two linear accelerators as well as two Marconi 250kV sets and a Philips SXT (Superficial X-rays). This latter set I used extensively a little later in my career to optimise the characteristics of the Farmer chamber (image 1).

The main linear accelerator was manufactured by Mullard (a branch of Philips), which Frank Farmer had installed as the first gantry-mounted 4MV linac (image 2). There were a few stories about the installation of this linac. In particular I remember this: the team had reached the point where they needed to produce X-rays so needed a high atomic number transmission target. Someone found a sovereign, but forgot the amount of heat produced when the high energy electrons hit it. The sovereign promptly melted and fell out of the linac head. (This linac went on to perform 25 years’ service).

Fig 2

Fig 2 Newcastle Simulator (Frank Farmer at Controls) [ref 3]

For those physicists who find quality assurance (QA) on linear accelerators today a huge burden, my recollection of the checks we performed on this linac amounted to: dose measurements and field size checks. There was little attempt to measure flatness since the accelerated electron beam wasn’t bent before striking the target, so no perturbations in intensity across the field were expected.

 

 

Fig 3

Fig 3 A Head and Neck Xeroradiograph showing potential. Treatment volume [ref 3]

 

Treatment planning was done by hand, often mainly using % depth dose, but also with some isodose curves for more complex plans on tracing paper; on to an outline of the patient performed using lead wire and other devices, e.g. callipers. Newcastle was unique in having developed a home-made simulator (using a radiotherapy SXT unit mounted on a gantry (image 2) that allowed an image to be viewed on a Xerox plate immediately without the need for film development (ref 3, see also image 3).

The first computer in the department, which was to revolutionise treatment planning, came to Newcastle in the early 1970s and was called a PDP 8, the ‘Rad8 system’ developed by Bentley and Milan. (image 4 [ref 4]).

Radium tubes and needles were still extensively used at this time for intracavitary and interstitial brachytherapy. I was also required to calculate the dwell times for gynae radium insertions (using ovoids and central vaginal sources with a modified Manchester system for the gynae and radium needles, mainly in back of tongue with radiographs and Paterson Parker tables). Following the calculation of the radium dwell times I would then go up to the ward to discuss the removal times, for each patient, with sister on the ward. Amazing now to think how much radioactivity (up to 105mg – equivalent to approximately 389 MBq-or more) for gynae insertions was handled by several different groups of staff at that time.

In those early years I also learnt the elements of radiation protection and nuclear medicine. Radiation Protection (guided by a ‘Code of Practice’; an excellent document that was used to help write the ‘Guidance Note’ now used under Ionising radiation Legislation) was regionally organised. Very early in my career (there were only two of us to perform the external radiation work: myself and MJ Day), I found myself organising visits within Northumberland, Cumbria and parts of Durham. (See The Regional Centre below). These were more as inspections than to make many measurements (not the very extensive QA that is performed now, although we did use film or image intensification – only recently developed – to look for faults in lead aprons; and we measured exposure levels in and out of beam with the ‘37D’ (Pitman) dosemeter (originally developed by Sidney Osborne as an excellent versatile instrument for exposure measurements ref 5). I learnt a pattern of inspection of barriers, filtration, lead aprons etc. very quickly. [In the early 1970s the NRPB decided to do their own inspections and were surprised to find that, because the HPA had organised things so well there was little need for NRPB to get too heavily involved].

My memories of nuclear medicine: incredibly slow rectilinear scanners, prior to the commercial development of gamma cameras; kidney function (renogram) using two ‘D’-shaped detectors (scintillation) with manual optimisation of their positions connected to count rate meters and chart recorders.

The regional centre

I’m not sure how many hospitals this covered in my early days in Northumberland, Tyneside, Durham and Cumbria. I know when Keith Boddy implemented Frank Farmer’s plan to have a small physics department (where gamma cameras were installed in district general hospitals) there were thirteen hospitals with physics departments in the region. Prior to this – from about my 3rd year at Newcastle – I was delegated to look after the small centre in Carlisle where there were two Marconi 250kV sets, an SXT and some iodine treatment. In the 1950s this had been the job of Jack Fowler who used some of his time to study arc therapy on 250kV (see ref 6).

Rad 2014 photo

Edwin Aird (right) receiving the BIR Sylvanus Thompson Award from Andy Beavis

In those early years I also found time to help develop differential X-ray absorptiometry to measure antimony in the local Tyneside Antimony workers’ lungs (organised by the Newcastle University Department of Industrial Health). I was also able to build on this experience to develop my own equipment, using characteristic X-rays, to measure bone mineral in the femur. This clinical work allowed me to meet a new set of clinicians (other than radiotherapists – as Clinical Oncologists were then called – and radiologists) involved with bone loss in patients: kidney specialists, endocrinologists and geriatricians. Commercial equipment has since been developed to perform bone mineral and body composition measurements (GE Lunar, Hologic, and Norland).


References:

  1. Aird EGA and Farmer FT. The design of a thimble chamber for the Farmer dosemeter. Phys Med Biol 1972 17: 169–174. https://doi.org/10.1088/0031-9155/17/2/001
  2. Day MJ and Farmer FT. The 4 MeV Linear Accelerator at Newcastle upon Tyne. Br J Radiol 1958; 31: 669–682. https://doi.org/10.1259/0007-1285-31-372-669
  3. Farmer FT, Fowler JF and Haggith JW. Megavoltage Treatment Planning and the Use of Xeroradiography. Br J Radiol 1963; 36: 426–435. https://doi.org/10.1259/0007-1285-36-426-426
  4. Bentley RE and Milan J. An interactive digital computer system for radiotherapy treatment planning. Br J Radiol 1971; 44: 826–833. https://doi.org/10.1259/0007-1285-44-527-826
  5. Osborn SB and Borrows RG. An Ionization Chamber for Diagnostic X-Radiation. Med.Biol1958; 3: 37–43. https://doi.org/10.1088/0031-9155/3/1/305
  6. Fowler JF and Farmer FT. Measured Dose Distributions in Arc and Rotation Therapy: A Critical Comparison of Moving and Fixed Field Techniques. Br J Radiol 1957; 30: 653–659. https://doi.org/10.1259/0007-1285-30-360-653

About Dr Edwin Aird

Edwin Aird was Head of Physics at Mount Vernon Hospital from 1988-2012 and Head of Radiotherapy Physics at St Bartholomew’s Hospital from 1985-1988. He was Head of Radiotherapy Physics at Newcastle General Hospital from 1980-1985. He is an IPEM Chief Examiner 1994-1997 (Physics Training Scheme), FRCR (RT) Examiner 1989-1993, Radiotherapy Degree (External Examiner (Liverpool University): 1993-1996. He is a IAEA: Qualified Expert: 1999-2005 and an LH Gray Trustee: 1999-2003.

He was awarded the BIR Roentgen Prize in 2005 and delivered the Silvanus Thompson: Award and Eponymous Lecture 2013.

Having a scan with your head in a rubber hat

NHS

Dr Jim Stevenson, reflects on life as a radiologist in the 1970s.

 

Jim StevensonI started my radiological life in the mid seventies at St George’s Hospital. Part of the rotation programme involved some time at the Atkinson Morley Hospital where I came across the first generation scanner. There was an old dental chair on which a patient laid back with his head in a rubber hat in the scanner porthole. It took 8 slices. Each slice took 5 minutes using an old fashioned tomogram X-ray tube. The image details were processed by a very large computer. The resultant image was printed on a photograph. The image matrix was 80 by 80, an advance since the original 40 by 40. How Jamie Ambrose invented the reports I do not know but his detailed knowledge of brain anatomy was quite outstanding.

Once when walking past the scanner I saw a porter in a brown overall walking round the machine. Being concerned about security, I spoke to Jamie Ambrose. “Don’t worry about him,” he said, ‘”That’s only Godfrey“ (Hounsfield from EMI).

Significant advances in CT occurred about every 5 years. When the first body images appeared we all had to learn cross-sectional anatomy. Since 1945 all anatomy was taught in longitudinal section – sagittal and coronal. I showed an image to my father-in-law. He had no problem with it but he had qualified in 1940. Before the war, all medics had to learn cross-section anatomy! The very best cross-section anatomy book I found was Eycleshymer and Schoemaker published in America in 1911. Still much better than the modern ones of recent times. The only difficulty is that all the labels are in Latin which can make interpretation difficult!

Over the past fifty years medical technology advances have been and will continue to be outstanding. The need to make proper use of them hasn’t changed. Wet films, fluorescent imaging, U/S, MRI and digital are all contributing to our future.


About Dr Jim Stevenson

Dr James Duncan Stevenson BSc. MB.BS, FRCR trained at St.Thomas’ Hospital Medical School, London and four years later turned to radiology at St.George’s Hospital, London. In November 1980 he became a Consultant Radiologist at Royal Victoria Hospital, Bournemouth and Poole Hospital. He retired in August 2007.

From darkroom to digital: Tracing the transformation of Radiography

NHS

Stewart Whitley reflects on how technology has revolutionised radiographic imaging. 

 

Since the launch of RAD Magazine back in 1975, radiographic imaging as we know it has changed dramatically, far beyond the concept of what anyone could have imagined at that time. And just as smart mobile phone technology has revolutionised how we communicate, so too has the emergence of digital imaging technology transformed the X-ray department while at the same time providing both regional and national connectivity.

Fig 1

Figure 1: At work in the chest room at New Ealing Hospital, London. From RAD Magazine, July 1979

A few of us will remember with fondness those ‘bygone days’ when the darkroom was a hive of activity and was central to all that happened in the X-ray department; all permanent images, and for that matter, reporting was dependent on film/screen technology and film processing chemistry. Back then there was the gradual but necessary progression from manual processing, with those famous drying cabinets, to the first automatic dryers and then the emergence of automatic processing which was the first step in revolutionising film processing and the eventual demise of the darkroom. Even though those wonderful automatic film processors could eventually process film in 90 seconds, a great deal of care and attention was still necessary to keep rollers, processing tanks and processing chemicals in tip-top condition. And what department was without a silver recovery system to generate income? Then everything changed dramatically overnight with the introduction of daylight processing. Different manufacturers had different solutions but the overall effect was to transform the X-ray department and free up the darkroom technician, many of whom became X-ray helpers – the forerunners to the modern image support worker (figure 1). While image acquisition using modern film/screen technology progressed steadily with the introduction of more efficient and higher quality image systems, the focus was on radiation dose reduction, with X-ray manufacturers offering a range of general X-ray and fluoroscopic systems which provided welcome features to reduce patient and staff dose.

Fig 2

Figure 2: Radiologists and radiographers attending a preview of Agfa Gevaert’s daylight processing system in London. From RAD Magazine, March 1977

Older X-ray systems were powered with what would be considered today outdated X-ray generator technology and X-ray tube design, with corresponding limitations on short exposure times and geometric sharpness. Thanks howeverto consistent research and development in generator technology and X-ray tube design, the problem of high tube output and short exposure times with associated production of inherent high heat was resolved. This facilitated multiple exposure equipment for cardiovascular imaging and general angiography with their inherent demands for high quality sharp images at low radiation doses. Such changes have enabled the acquisition of motion-free images of the vascular tree, coronary vessels and heart anatomy, giving spectacular images of cardiac function and anatomy. The X-ray generator control desk is now hardly recognisable from those found in departments back in 1975 – some still had voltage compensation controls and meters for you to manipulate before you started the day (figure 2).

Gone are those massive exposure control dials for individual control of Kv, Ma and time. Such control desks were large and floor standing, unlike modern small desks which rest on a bench or can be wall mounted and synchronised to the X-ray tube housing/light beam display unit. For exposure factor selection, we are no longer confined to manual selection, thanks to the development of anatomical programming selection combined with the introduction of automatic exposure control – something that we take for granted nowadays – but its use still requires skill and knowledge of the location and use of the relevant ionizing chambers to select the most appropriate exposure conditions. Used correctly, image quality will be consistent with the optimum use of radiation dose. The design of X-ray tables and ceiling tube suspension systems has been a gradual process, developing from simple solutions to fully integrated motorised units where preprogramming of the location of the X-ray tube/table of a vertical Bucky is linked to the body part selected for examination, requiring less effort from the radiographer in positioning heavy equipment.

Fig 3

Figure 3: Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital’s ceiling-mounted equipment in its new X-ray unit. From RAD Magazine

We now see the control of exposure factor selection built in to the modern X-ray tube housing/light beam diaphragm display unit. This saves a great deal of time and releases more time for patient care, which has been further enhanced with the introduction of rise and fall tables with floating table tops – something which is taken for granted compared to the old days with fixed-height tables and no facility to move the patient other than brute force (figure 3). Overall, the advances in design with improved ergonomics have been complemented with a range of dose information and dose saving features such as the introduction of DAP meters (now a feature of all X-ray systems), additional selectable X-ray tube filtration for paediatric radiography, and the ability to remove grids in the Bucky systems to lower patient dose.

Over the years, changes in standard radiography requests and techniques have emerged which have been driven by the introduction of new technologies and patient pathways. No longer, for instance, are those well-loved isocentric skull units required because basic skull radiography has become a thing of the past and, if necessary, is replaced with the use of CT. As a result, there has been a loss of this skill, but as one modality is lost others like OPG and cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) have found their way into the X-ray department. Continuing this theme, fluoroscopy procedures such as barium enema and barium meal procedures are no longer in favour, compared to yesteryear when they were undertaken mostly on equipment based on the undercouch X-ray tube design with over-the-table image intensifier. Not only have such fluoroscopy units in the UK diminished in number but they have been replaced with equipment with a more X-ray tube and image detector unit. This is complemented by a range of image selection features such as digital subtraction and road mapping for angiography, as well as a number of exposure and dose control options from the main control console or on a mobile control desk that can be positioned anywhere in the room.

Image 4

Figure 4: Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s Farage Unit equipped with a new Philips C-arm angiography unit with CBCT capability

Such C-arm systems can also support CBCT. This truly is a leap forward in design and capability, with such configurations providing volumetric CT capabilities which in the angiography suite provide the clinician with a 3D orientation of pathology as well as a feature to plan the optimum orientation for positioning a biopsy needle, without damaging vital organs or arteries (figure 4). Undoubtedly, however, the introduction of digital technology has transformed how we acquire images. The development of both computed radiography (CR) and direct digital radiography (DDR) has been fascinating to observe. In the early days of this development, DDR with large detectors was mostly fixed and integrated into the vertical Bucky and table design while CR was based mainly on conventional cassettes, thus giving the radiographer greater flexibility and the ability to undertake examinations in the conventional way. However, all of that has changed with DDR now presented with mobile flat detectors, built-in wi-fi technology, and in different sizes capable of being used in a similar way to film/screen cassette radiography. This has revolutionised the speed in which images are acquired and, with the development of mobile DDR based X-ray systems, its use in high dependency patient care units such as ITU and SCBU is providing the clinician with instant images, thus assisting them to make immediate and important treatment decisions. Overall the X-ray department has been changed forever – what next?

This article was first published in RAD Magazine, 43, 500, 22, 24. Reproduced with permission.


About Stewart Whitley

Stewart Whitley

Stewart undertook his radiography training in the Royal Army Medical Corps qualifying in 1967 at the Royal Herbert Hospital, Woolwich, London.  After serving in the Army he returned to N. Ireland working first at the Lagan Valley Hospital, Lisburn and then at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast where he qualified as a Radiographer Teacher before moving to Altnagelvin Hospital, Londonderry as Deputy Superintendent Radiographer.

In 1978 he was appointed District Radiographer at Blackpool Victoria Hospital where he remained until the autumn of 2006 when he retired from the NHS as Directorate Manager of Radiology and Physiotherapy Services.

Shortly after leaving the NHS he established UK Radiology Advisory Services, a small company dedicated to providing medical imaging advice and support to various NHS and private sector organisations and educational establishments.

Stewart has a passion for Radiography and his professional body, the Society and College of Radiographers, and has served as a Council Member, Honorary Secretary of the N. Ireland Branch of the Society of Radiographers and as a DCR and HDCR Medical Photography examiner as well as serving on a number of SCOR committees.

He lectures on a number of courses and was an Honorary Lecturer and Coordinator for radiographer lecturers on the FRCR course at Manchester University.

Stewart took on the role of ISRRT’s Director of Professional Practice in April 2018

 

The case of the missing fingers!

NHS

Professor Roger Dale remembers how he got his first job in medical physics and how he thought he’d discovered a radiation martyr.

 

Roger Dale circa 1966

Anxiously seeking a job in medical physics on completion of my first degree in 1966 I quickly became aware that basic grade physicist positions in large centres were difficult to find and, for a while, I was unsure what to do. Being out of work I wrote in some desperation to a (very small) radiotherapy centre in Kent pointing out my predicament and asking if I could join as a porter until such time as I could obtain a physicist position in a larger department. To my great surprise I received a phone call a day or two later from the head radiotherapist (Dr B) inviting me along for an informal chat with him, during which it transpired that the hospital had no requirement for any more porters but did have a vacant establishment for a radiotherapy physicist at principal grade! The principal post had already been offered to a gentleman in New Zealand but it would take a month or two before he could take up the position. Therefore, as there was no physicist in post at that time, Dr B suggested that I join as an acting-temporary(!) basic grade until the principal appointee arrived in the UK. Needless to say, I agreed without hesitation.

The necessary paperwork was sorted out remarkably quickly (the old personnel departments always seemed notably more efficient than the burgeoning HR empires which later followed) and my career in medical physics began, albeit rather shakily. My only ‘supervision’ came from occasional conversations with Mr W, the Chief Technician, whose own duties were entirely focused on running the film badge and thyroid uptake services. He was not at all involved on the radiotherapy side of things so I spent many hours buried deep in the standard radiotherapy physics textbooks of the time. That reading reinforced my desire to stay in medical physics because here were the seemingly abstract physical and mathematical concepts encountered during my degree studies being successfully applied to highly relevant clinical issues. Amongst other things I brushed up on the fundamentals of radium dosimetry, this being necessary since Dr B performed several radium implants each week (remote afterloading systems were only just being introduced back then) and, as I was now the sole medical physicist (of sorts) within a 50 mile radius, he required me to be present during the procedures.

Dr B’s theatre sessions were an eye-opener. Apart from a certain squeamishness at witnessing surgery for the first time, I found his implantation technique quite scary since, although a full range of surgical implements and manipulators were at his disposal, he had a habit of giving all the radium needles a push with his fingers. Worse, it was impossible not to notice that several of his fingers were in fact missing! Even a greenhorn like me knew that physically touching radioactive sources was definitely a practice not to be recommended and the fledgling scientist in me began to ponder on cause and effect.

For several days it worried me that Dr B might be paying a very high price in order to pursue his noble vocation and I was unsure how (or if) I should air my concerns, especially as my status as an unsupervised acting-temporary basic grade physicist of just a few weeks’ standing hardly conferred much authority. Eventually I plucked up the courage to speak to the Chief Technician, telling him how convinced I was that Dr B was suffering radiation damage as a direct result of his operating technique. Mr W’s reaction was not quite what I expected. After some snorts of derision at my expense he then took some delight in pointing out that Dr B had been in the RAMC during the war. He had landed on the Normandy beaches where his jeep had hit a mine, and that was how he had lost several of his fingers. Somewhat chastened, I went away to reflect on the fact that my powers of deductive reasoning might be in need of substantial refinement.

Shortly after this awkward conversation the newly-appointed principal physicist arrived from New Zealand and, contrary to all my expectations, Dr B suggested that I stay on for a while longer to gain some first-hand experience working with the new man. This was to be a tremendous bonus as the knowledge and advice I picked up in the weeks following gave me enough of an advantage to successfully apply for a substantive post (i.e. neither acting nor temporary) in a large London centre, after which I never looked back.

Roger Dale recentToday’s NHS is nothing like the one I joined in 1966 and specialised scientist training is much more formalised and incalculably better. No one these days could be appointed in the manner that I had been but Dr B, like most other NHS professionals then and now, was motivated by good intentions and his thoughtfulness over fifty years ago put me on the path to a rich and fulfilling career in medical physics and radiobiology. I discovered later in life that Dr B had told one of his colleagues that he had helped me because he “wanted to give the lad a chance”. What he gave me was a chance that was truly exceptional and this lad has been immensely grateful ever since.


About Professor Roger Dale

Roger Dale retired from his post at Imperial College Healthcare in 2010 following an NHS career spanning 43 years. His main scientific interest has been the development of radiobiological models which can be used to quantitatively assess the biological impact of radiotherapy and other cancer treatment modalities. He is widely published and the clinical significance of his work has been recognised through the award of a number of prestigious scientific prizes and through his  parallel appointment, in 2005, as Professor of Cancer Radiobiology in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College. He continues to be involved in research and teaching.

My first day in radiotherapy physics: reflections of a medical physicist

NHSIn 2010 Karen Goldstone was awarded the MBE for her services to healthcare. Here she reflects on the primitive tools used for radiotherapy patient outlines back in the 1970s and remembers the wise advice she was given on her first day as a radiotherapy physicist.

BIR

I started work in the NHS as a Hospital Physicist in 1970. Prior to that I did the MSc in radiation Physics based at Middlesex Hospital. When doing a placement in nuclear medicine, computer tapes had to be taken to University College about a fifteen minute walk to the other side of Tottenham Court Road and fetched the next day hopefully having run successfully.

In my first post I expected to be doing mainly diagnostic radiology physics but discovered that that was rather a luxury field and so most of my time was spent doing radiotherapy physics. Those were the days when patient outlines were taken using a strip of lead or a flexicurve and planning was done using tracing paper and coloured pencils or biros. There was no computer planning of course and we only had one calculator with a paper roll print out so slide rules were in constant use. The main piece of advice I remember receiving on my first day was that if I discovered I had made a mistake I should own up to it straight away and not seek to cover it up – very wise words.

When not doing radiotherapy physics many hours were spent reading out film densities produced using our homemade “Ardran Cassette” in order to check kVp. This was the beginning of setting up a quality control programme for X-ray units. Another time-consuming activity was sealing lithium borate powder into plastic capsules in order to measure dose to radiologists, carrying out various procedures under fluoroscopic control, and subsequently reading the doses received.

Although diagnostic radiology physics was not seen as important it was an exciting time and I was fortunate enough to hear Godfrey Hounsfield give the 1972 MacRobert Award lecture on “Computerised Transverse Axial Tomography” – an invention that has revolutionised diagnostic imaging.

I started my second post in 1974 in a smaller department but with responsibilities in other, far-flung, hospitals. Here I was the radiotherapy physicist (the only one) and also covered diagnostic radiology and radiation protection, but because it was a smaller department and staff had to be versatile I also did some nuclear medicine and even once some ultrasound.

In the peripheral hospitals in my patch one was still using wet developing, one using just a fluorescent screen for fluoroscopic procedures and one an image intensifier viewed not via a camera but via a mirror arrangement.

How times have changed!


About Karen Goldstone MBE

I worked for forty years in the NHS, in radiotherapy physics, diagnostic X-ray physics and all aspects of radiation protection. In 1983 I set up the East Anglian Regional Radiation Protection Service (EARRPS) based at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, and ran it for almost 30 years. I was both a Radiation Protection Adviser and Laser Protection Adviser. I gave physics lectures to radiologists and was a physics examiner for FRCR both in the UK and Malaysia. With colleagues in EARRPS and Cambridge University I ran a number of Radiation Protection Supervisor courses and gave countless IRMER courses to reluctant clinical staff. I was exceedingly surprised to be awarded the MBE in 2010 for services to healthcare.

Since retiring I have taken up rowing and become a Level 2 rowing coach; I have given two courses on Radiation and Health to the University of the Third Age in Cambridge and am otherwise kept busy with my garden, allotment, grandchildren and church activities. I am still involved on one or two committees for medical physics and radiological protection.

My first radiology job in the NHS

NHS

What does a jazz band, a ghost train and a figure in dark goggles have in common? They are all part of the NHS 70 memories of Professor Ralph McCready.

Ralph McCready

As a houseman I had the privilege of working for Professor Frank Pantridge, inventor of the defibrillator. I was fascinated by his catheter lab with the combination of physiology and radiology. So I decided to become a radiologist but was advised to go to England (from Northern Ireland) and obtain an impressive degree so that I could return if I wished. So I went to Guy’s Hospital, London to study for an MSc in Radiation Physics and Biology and the Diploma in Medical Radiodiagnosis (DMRD), paying my own fees.

Guy’s Radiology Department was interesting. The radiology chief was Dr Tom Hills who smoked cigars, had a tiny lead apron over the appropriate parts and had made an automatic wet X-ray film processing system.

It was obvious I would never get a radiology job at Guy’s coming from Belfast, speaking strangely, and not having the MRCP (Membership of the Royal College Physicians examination) so I applied for a Senior House Officer (SHO) position at the Hammersmith Hospital London where everybody was equal.

At the Hammersmith I was told by the other applicants that I would not get the job as I had come from Belfast. However I was determined to leave the interview with my head held high. I was first in to the SHO interview and was amazed to see a long row of people on the other side of the table headed by Professor Robert Steiner. He opened the questioning by asking why I was a member of the Musician’s Union. I explained that all my colleagues in the White Eagles Jazz Band had failed their exams, left the University and turned professional. To continue to play with them I had to join the Union. Then I was asked what else I had done, so rising to the occasion I told them I had been the ghost in a ghost train in an Amusement Park. I was bored so I connected the light over the skeleton to be permanently on. The little children came out saying that there was a ghost reading the Daily Telegraph beside the skeleton. Of course nobody believed them and the people outside poured in to see what was going on.

I emerged from the interview after forty minutes to tell the other candidates how awful the interview had been. I was appointed to the position! Professor Steiner used me to do all the odd jobs in the X-ray department for the next two years. As the junior doctor I worked in the dark with the oldest Watson X-ray set. Every time I took an erect X-ray the large steel edged cassette containing the film would slide across and usually fall out of the carriage landing on the floor with a loud crash frightening everybody in the darkened room.

It was a time of great innovation at the Hammersmith: the first renal transplant was carried out; micturating cystograms were started. After initial problems with old ladies standing up in the dark being unable to ‘pee’ when the urine hit the steel bucket with a tinkle, the problem was solved by lining the bucket with sound deadening polythene. Friday was ladies’ day when I was the only radiologist who performed Hysterosalpingography. It was done in a small room with a boiling water sterilizer in the corner. When I came out to view the films the steam poured out of the door and I would appear in a cloud of steam as a fearsome figure wearing large dark goggles and a long lead apron to the consternation of the waiting mixture of NHS and private practice ladies.

Professor Steiner was a great leader and inspiration. I will always be grateful to him appointing me to a job in the Hammersmith to start my career in the NHS. https://www.rcr.ac.uk/college/obituaries/professor-robert-steiner


About Ralph McCready

I graduated in Medicine from Queen’s University Belfast and then worked as a Houseman in the Royal Victoria Hospital. When I came to England I studied for the MSc in Radiation Physics and Biology and the Diploma in Radiodiagnosis at Guy’s Hospital London. After working as an SHO in Radiology at the Hammersmith Hospital I was appointed to a research position at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, Surrey. With the development of a Nuclear Medicine Department at the Royal Marsden Hospital I became the consultant in charge for over 40 years. In 1987 I was awarded a DSc by Queen’s University Belfast, the British Institute of Radiology Barclay Prize in 1973, an Hon. FRCR in 1975, an Honorary Fellowship of the Faculty of Radiologists Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland in 1992 and made an Honorary Member of the Japanese Radiological Society also in 1992. I was appointed to a personal chair in Radiological Sciences in the Institute of Cancer Research in 1990.

As a founder member of the British Nuclear Medicine Society I have recently co-edited a book celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Society and the development of radionuclide studies in the UK.https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-319-28624-2