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Birmingham Chest Clinic marks 90 years

Published on 20/03/2023

The entrance to the historic Birmingham Chest Clinic features ornate carving and Tuscan columns.
The entrance to the historic Birmingham Chest Clinic features ornate carving and Tuscan columns.

Birmingham Chest Clinic, one of Birmingham’s longest-running health clinics, marked its 90th birthday on Saturday (March 18) with a celebratory open day, where clinic staff gathered with patients to celebrate its incredibly rich history.

 

If you’ve ever travelled along one of the great arteries of Birmingham, Great Charles Street Queensway, not far from the A38 tunnel that funnels traffic underneath the city centre; somewhere between the brand new Paradise and Snow Hill developments; the four-storey, stone building can be found, discretely tucked away.

 

Birmingham Chest Clinic, part of University Hospitals Birmingham, has been on this site for almost 90 years, leading the way in the treatment of over 15,000 patients a year who have lung diseases such as asthma, or tuberculosis (TB).

 

More recently, experts at Birmingham Chest Clinic have been researching conditions and treatments for a variety of respiratory illnesses such as sarcoidosis (a rare condition causing small patches of swollen tissue called granulomas to develop in the lungs), while also providing treatment for patients suffering from Post-Covid Syndrome or ‘Long Covid’.

 

To celebrate the anniversary, the open day provided guests with the opportunity to hear from clinic staff with the collective experience of centuries, about the clinic’s history, how it has changed over time and their hopes for its future.

 

One of the longest serving members of staff, Professor Sherwood Burge, a senior doctor and respiratory medicine consultant who developed the Occupational Lung Disease service in 1980, shared some of his earliest memories of working at the clinic.

 

He said: “The work of Chest Medicine has changed hugely since the clinic opened; TB has become more or less under control, although it’s still significant here in Birmingham, but much less than it was. Many other diseases have become a lot more common, particularly asthma, lung fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

 

“Although no longer in use, the clinic still has the original patients changing rooms with cubicles. When I first started, if you were a patient you had to take off everything down to the waist upon arrival, whether you were male or female, young or old, and you put a bit of cloth around your neck, that tied up behind your back. You then walked downstairs to the x-ray department to have your x-ray. There was no decency at all and that was completely accepted. Nowadays it’s much more respectable and a very friendly place to receive care.”

 

In 2015, Consultant Gareth Walters took over from Professor Burge as the lead for the supra-regional NHS Occupational Lung Disease service; a role that involves assessing and managing patients whose lung disease has been caused by their work, often resulting from inhalation of a gas, vapour, dust or fumes.

 

 

Gareth said: “As one of only five Occupational Lung services here in the UK, we are really busy and see patients from a wide area including the South-West, Wales, and the East and West Midlands. Patients often present with novel presentations and as a result we are always reporting new diseases, which is so important as otherwise the link between lung disease and work wouldn’t be found. By finding the cause and removing it, it means people can continue to remain employed.

 

“As patients often travel quite far to receive treatment, it is important that a ‘one-stop’ service is something that the Birmingham Chest Clinic continues to provide in the future. In a single visit, patients can see a number of different healthcare professionals and undergo tests, as well as pick up their medicine, which is pretty unique now across NHS trusts.”

 

Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) Nurse Specialist, Geraldine Burge, trained at a time when, as she recalls, nurses ‘warmed’ metal bed pans, and when telephones were attached to the walls; one red for emergencies and one black for all other communications. X-ray’s and scans were mounted on large cellulose films, ward sisters had bedrooms on the wards, and ward rounds were events to be feared and well prepared for.

 

Geraldine who single-handedly ran the ILD nursing service for ten years across Birmingham Heartlands Hospital and Birmingham Chest Clinic, reflected on her career and said: “After 43 years of nursing, I believe passionately about improving the lives of those with ILD, and the essence of nursing is not in the doing, rather, in the listening to concerns and then acting through care and compassion, affording dignity, respect, and value to all.”

 

Ten years ago, Geraldine set up a West Midlands Interstitial Lung Disease patient support group, providing a friendly and relaxed environment, where patients and their carers could meet regularly and learn from others in a similar situation. One of Geraldine’s patients, Artur, and his wife Stasia, have been members of the group since it was established.

 

The couple, from Streetly, attended the celebrations at the Chest Clinic at the weekend. Stasia said: “Artur has been coming to the Chest Clinic for over 10 years. Having Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), he went on a trial for the medication Nintedanib, and is now taking this medication supervised by Professor Burge and Sister Geraldine Burge.

 

“Artur would not be here today without the excellent care of Professor Burge, Geraldine Burge and all the staff; they have gone far beyond what is expected and we are taking this opportunity to thank them for the wonderful treatment and care they have provided over the years.”

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