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Date: 3 August 2021
UHB histories: interview with Liz Hall
Liz Hall has worked or trained at the old Queen Elizabeth (QEH) and Selly Oak (SOH) hospitals, the General, the Accident Hospital and Birmingham Women’s Hospital.
Before the move to the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham (QEHB), Liz talked to Joe Stein from UHB’s Communications Team about her time in nursing and what the new building will mean to her.
Walking to Liz’s office, near the labs on the bottom floor of the old QEH, the need for our new facilities is obvious. The dark and long corridors do not well represent the aspirations of the Trust to provide a leading edge service in a world-class building.
But, as Liz rightly says: “As long as they are functional, it doesn’t really matter what the building is like or what the name is – the way the medical teams work together and the huge effort put in by support staff are the truly vital things that make a hospital work.”
Student nursing in the 1980s
Liz first came to Birmingham in 1982 as a student nurse. She was one of just three intakes for that year at the QEH. She remembers fondly the “traditional” atmosphere of nursing and life in Nuffield House accommodation. Or rather the mischief the nurses got up to avoiding the strict policing of Mrs Russell, the fearsome Australian warden of the nurses’ halls.
“We had to make good use of the underground tunnel,” she says. “There was always a constant flow of boyfriends, passing to and from the medical school.
“Our mess parties were certainly memorable. There was a lot of mimicry of each other and also of the matrons, sisters, managers and consultants. Christmas shows were the highlight of the year - buckets of cocktails always played a part in making those evenings unforgettable.”
After qualifying, Liz worked on a surgical ward and later an intensive treatment unit (ITU) at the General Hospital. She then travelled to Australia for a year, where she nursed in various hospitals.
On her return she came back to the General as a senior nurse and subsequently came to the QEH to work on the ITU. The experience she had already gained in caring for critically ill patients at the General was vital, as it was at this time that the Liver Transplant Programme was beginning to take shape.
Liz stayed on the ITU for ten years and then moved to a ward on the Selly Oak site to work with HIV-infected patients. Six years ago she became a ward manager on B3 at Selly Oak before joining University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust’s (UHB) Infection Control Team in July 2005.
New hospital’s impact on infection control
As an infection control nurse, Liz is excited to see the benefits the new hospital will bring. Over the last five years, the role of the Infection Control Team has come to prominence. The new hospital’s design reflects this.
“The lab systems will be greatly improved; there will be much easier access to them so we'll be able to test even more patients for infection and obtain test results far quicker,” says Liz.
“The higher number of single rooms and lack of shared bathrooms also means we will be able to isolate patients better and further prevent the spread of infections.”
Old differences falling away
When asked about the cultural differences between QEH and SOH, and how they will fit together in the new QEHB, Liz is optimistic: “If there ever really was a cultural difference, it has all but disappeared. So many staff now work across the two sites and have got used to swapping and changing around different hospitals anyway.
“People will always have a fondness for places, but we will inevitably move on. Whenever I visit the General [now the Children’s Hospital] I know that it’s not my hospital anymore, but the shell is the same and it still conjures up many of the memories I have from there.”
“Patients … you never forget them”
“It is not so much the different areas that you remember, but the patients and your colleagues. You never forget them. I have met some really special people over the years that have shaped my professional and personal life.
“I still remember one patient from my time on an oncology ward at QEH as a student nurse incredibly vividly. She was a young mother with an aggressive form of bone cancer; she had lost all her hair and looked skeletal. The cancer was causing her an intense amount of pain and she screamed in agony for most of the day. When her children came to visit however, she always put on a brave face and a smile. It was upsetting to watch because I knew how much pain she was in and how much strength it was taking her to suppress it.”
Taking old values forward
Over the last thirty years, Liz has experienced human life at its most fragile, but also its most inspiring moments. Although her work can be exceptionally tough at times, in her view, it is also one of the most rewarding jobs in the world.
“The nature of our work means that if we didn’t support each other as colleagues and work in good humour, we would not be able to cope. The relationships you build at hospitals can be exceptionally strong, long lasting and often full of jokes,” She says.
The new hospital will bring many changes to the way UHB’s clinical and support teams work, but the key elements of working very closely with colleagues and putting patient care at the forefront of everything we do will not be lost. They are fundamental to our cause.
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