History of Clinical Engineering

A Brief History

A gentleman by the name of Norman Cudlip started the Specialist Mechanical Workshop (SMWS) at the Redruth Miners and General Hospital, sometime after the start of the NHS in 1948 and before 1951, when Tom Williams joined. Tom had been an apprentice at the mining/engineering company, Holman Brothers, who themselves have a long history in Cornwall, having been founded in 1801.

Mr Clifford F Walker was the chief physicist and Ron Buchan was his assistant. Norman and Tom’s main function was to make Radium boxes and applicators for Radiotherapy treatment using the element Radium. The Radium was stored in a lead lined shed which Tom had to help construct. In this shed was an old bank safe which also had to be lead lined. The Radium was supplied in small 2cm x 1cm cylinder form from Amersham and kept in the safe in lead lined drawers. This was used to treat mainly cervix and breast cancers. They also had a KX10, which is a hard X Ray machine.

In the beginning there were just Tom and Norman, but Roy Escott followed shortly. When Norman left in 1954, Tom and Roy took on John Johns as an apprentice. After his apprenticeship finished, John left and worked at Heathcote Amery, a textile company in Redruth, his job servicing and repairing sewing machines. However, he pined for his old job and re-joined Tom at the hospital.

In 1973, the main operations moved away from Redruth to Freedom Fields Hospital in Plymouth and Exeter. Tom moved with Ron Buchan and John to Plymouth and Roy Escott to Exeter. Work continued at Redruth but it was now a satellite operation and meant visits to and from the Plymouth base.

At Plymouth, a new workshop was built for the team at the back of the Radiographers Training facility, Woodside, beside Freedom Fields Park, the team eventually became 4 staff.

The Electronics Unit was started in about 1968 by Ron Buchan who was then joined by Pete Walters, setting up a workshop in one of the houses in Mildmay Street, Plymouth

In 1975, Pete Waters moved the Electronics Unit into the same building as the mechanical workshop in Woodside, and he was joined by Paul Soper. Pete Walters eventually left, but in 1973, Andy Dawson had also joined, and the modern history of the service was born. Paul then left, moving to the Estates Department in Truro as Electronics Chief Tech, leaving Andy on his own.

Andy Dawson subsequently became Chief Technician. Mike Webber joined August 1975 and became Chief Technician in 2004 when Andy Dawson retired.

It is believed that the Electronics section become known as Medical Equipment Management Service (MEMS) around 1992. Staff numbers at this point were around 12.

Instrument Curator, Graham Bartrip, based in Clifton House, Clifton Place, behind Greenbank Hospital, Plymouth, headed up what became the Mechanical section of MEMS in 1992. This team at the time was around 7 or 8 persons. Graham retired shortly after, when the whole of MEMS moved into a purpose-built facility on Level 4 of Derriford Hospital in Feb 1994.

SMWS moved into a newly constructed workshop in the Estates Building at Derriford in 1996.

Biomedical Engineering, which had for many years been a team of 2 or 3 attached to the Electronics Unit was established as a separate unit in 1992 and moved into an adjacent facility at Derriford in 1996

In 2004 the Medical Equipment Library (MEL) was established next to MEMS as a central resource of general-purpose medical equipment for the whole Trust and followed national good practice recommendations around improving the availability of medical devices. The MEL team eventually became 6 people who now cover all 7 days of the week.

In April 2009, when Mike Webber retired, MEMS, MEL, SMWS and Biomedical Engineering were amalgamated to become Clinical Technology Group. Jonathan Applebee, a technician in the department since 1984, and subsequent team leader, then became Head of Clinical Technology.

In 2018 the service, again following internationally accepted good practice, was renamed Clinical Engineering.

A new internal team structure was established following a review of the service in 2006. Current teams at 2023 include Critical Care, Anaesthetics & Theatres, Diagnostics & Therapies, MEL, SMWS, Administration, Logistics & Stock, with staff numbers now totalling 50.

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