11 May 2020

49 years in the NHS

Grace Cesareo is a team leader for cross sectional imaging in the radiology department at University Hospital Southampton (UHS).

I started at the Trust in 1971, at just 16 years old as an administrator at the Western Hospital. Later when the hospital closed, I moved over to the cardiothoracic unit at UHS as a personal secretary to a radiologist, had a three month break, and then the NHS pulled me back!

I returned as a supervisor in MRI and CT scans, and at that time we only had one of each piece of equipment. Since I’ve been here I have seen a lot of new scanners where the old ones have gotten replaced through NHS and Southampton Hospitals Charity funding.

It used to take over an hour for a normal MRI scan with contrast, now the most it takes is 45 minutes (if more straight forward 15 minutes average). CT scans have improved drastically – these used to take up to an hour (depending on examination), and now patients can be in and out in 5-10 minutes (depending on examination). Technology has moved on so quickly which is fantastic for patient appointment times.

We used to have an average of 12 appointments a day in two scanners, but now with the additional five machines, we can book an average of 20 a day in each machine which is incredible. No two days are the same in my working day. You do get sad aspects to the job, but there are a lot more pros than cons. The patient pathway is paramount to us and if we can get them through quickly, we will.

When I started in this role at the Western Hospital there was a secretary and myself. Now at UHS I have a squad of 11 within my department, and I look after a further 57 from across the radiology department. A lot of people only see the NHS frontline staff, but don’t forget that there are a lot of us in the background making sure that they can do their job. We are all one NHS, together.

The systems have probably changed the most in relation to patient records. Throughout my career, I have gone from typewriters, carbonated paper to put reports on, to duplicators for printing out leaflets on a roller. From the start in 1971 we had typewriters with red and black ribbons like a film reel – the red for making an alert on a letter, the black for normal text. But nobody knows that now.

Everything was done on paper as computers were not heard of then for admin. The requests came in, and the Radiologists had to write on the request to agree to scan and protocol the request for the appointment to be booked. Now it is all electronic. You can log in from any computer and pick up patients requests from Cris (radiology system) to do any work on the radiology system from anywhere on site.

When I started, patients used to wait 18 months for the MRI scanner, now it is just two weeks for urgent cases, and six weeks for non urgent cases. The survival rate has dramatically improved.

I’ve worked in the NHS now for 49 years…

The other day was my 65th birthday and some of the ex-saints players came up to one of our team meetings. We had Matt le Tissier, James Beatty, Leroy Whale, Paul Bennett and Hugh Fisher, and they presented me with a bouquet of flowers and voucher from my work colleagues.

I used to play for the Saints ladies football club when I was younger, so it was so memorable – I will never forget it!

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