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This is how medical imaging has changed - retiring NHS worker reflects on 40 years

PUBLISHED: 16:32 04 June 2020 | UPDATED: 16:32 04 June 2020

Black and white shots taken in January 1997 show Nigel Beeton examining X-ray images on a viewbox at the West Suffolk Hospital Picture: WSFT

Black and white shots taken in January 1997 show Nigel Beeton examining X-ray images on a viewbox at the West Suffolk Hospital Picture: WSFT

WSFT

An NHS worker has reflected on the transformation of medical imaging and diagnosis after more than 40 years of “dedicated service” to healthcare.

Nigel and his wife Carol are pictured outside one of the new accommodation blocks opened at the hospital in June 2019, which is named in his honour Picture: WSFTNigel and his wife Carol are pictured outside one of the new accommodation blocks opened at the hospital in June 2019, which is named in his honour Picture: WSFT

Nigel Beeton, imaging services manager at the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (WSFT), retired last week, but will return to the trust part-time as a directorate support manager.

He joined WSFT in 1983 on an 18-month contract, met his future wife Carol, and remained ever since, supporting and steering the departments through major change.

Mr Beeton, who has an accommodation block named after him, has managed the radiology (X-ray, CT, MRI, nuclear medicine, ultrasound and breast imaging), clinical photography and endoscopy departments for 20 years.

He began his NHS career in 1978, and as a radiographer experienced the transformation of medical imaging and diagnosis.

Nigel Beeton, retiring imaging services manager at the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust Picture: WSFTNigel Beeton, retiring imaging services manager at the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust Picture: WSFT

“On my desk I have some of the equipment I used 40 years ago – a different world,” he said. “There was a lot more maths to be done in your head, as we used film that had to be exposed and hung up in a drying cabinet.

“Then machines were developed that could give us a dry X-ray in 90 seconds – this was unheard of.” The work involved doing everything manually, storing X-rays in extensive libraries. “Often there was just one image, so it was a major issue to make sure you did not lose them,” Mr Beeton said.

He recalled being allowed to see, “not touch!”, the first CT scanner, made by EMI, in London in 1980. This could deliver a head scan in about an hour, something that can now be done in less than a minute.

“The underlying revolution has been IT,” said Mr Beeton. “I was a bit of a computer nerd and used to programme them with punched tape. In a way I have grown up with computer technology.”

Black and white shots taken in January 1997 show Nigel Beeton examining X-ray images on a viewbox at the West Suffolk Hospital Picture: WSFTBlack and white shots taken in January 1997 show Nigel Beeton examining X-ray images on a viewbox at the West Suffolk Hospital Picture: WSFT

The 1990s saw the first CT scanner at the West Suffolk, which required a computer that filled a room, and discs the size of dinner plates.

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“It was pretty slow,” said Mr Beeton. “A head scan took about 15 minutes, and body scans had to be done sequentially. But of course it was much quicker than what we had before and allowed us to work in a different way.”

Since the late 1990s the service has had access to the detailed images provided by MRI scanners, while portable X-ray machines still provide useful diagnostic tools.

As a radiographer, Mr Beeton explained that he had completed professional training to obtain the most accurate images whilst keeping patients safe from radiation or other harm, and working closely with radiologists, the medically-qualified doctors who make the diagnoses.

He has also been managing the endoscopy and photography departments, which he describes as a completely different environment with its own team of clinicians.

As a part-time directorate support manager at the trust he will oversee projects, and nationally he is involved in the UK accreditation service (UKAS) for radiology standards. The trust achieved accreditation, recognising a safe and effective service, in 2011.

Chief executive of WSFT Steve Dunn said: “Nigel has given more than 40 years of dedicated service to the NHS, and his contribution to our trust has helped us transform the care we give our patients.

“Under his leadership our imaging teams have embraced new technologies and ways of working while maintaining the individual attention they give to each person. Gaining the UKAS accreditation was a great achievement among many in his career, and Beeton House is a lasting testament to his work.

“We shall miss Nigel but are delighted he is coming back in a different capacity that will make good use of his extensive experience and knowledge.”

One of Mr Beeton’s ambitions in retirement is to write a book on conflict resolution, aimed particularly at those working in the health service where, he says, conflict can break out quickly.

“There are no easy solutions,” he said. “We need some conflict of opinion in a field as complex as medicine. We can be poor at managing conflict as a nation, as we can in health. We need to give people in a management role the tools to manage conflict.”

Among the hobbies he looks forward to pursuing are family history, astronomy, miniatures and his lifelong love of trains, fostered by his father during his Buckinghamshire childhood.


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