Monday, July 16, 2012

irish pneumatics

I attended a medical sociology conference in Belfast recently, at the beautiful Queen's University. I wasn't expecting to talk about pneumatic tubes here (although Belfast is famous for a pneumatic invention of another kind), but rather about the healthcare professions.

One morning as I was preparing for the conference, I was listening to the BBC news and pneumatic tubes appeared on the hotel TV screen. A new hospital was opening its doors in Wolf Lough, near Enniskillen. The first new hospital to be built in Northern Ireland in over a decade, a sign of further rejuvenation of this previously troubled area.

Amongst the other "state to the art technology" being showcased was a "vacuum transfer system" to "allow for drugs, products and lab reports to be transferred around the hospital without being totally reliant on porters. It will also help speed up the discharge of patients who are often delayed awaiting prescriptions".

The hospital is said to epitomise "everything that is modern in a 21st century health service". There are no wards, just single rooms, each complete with flatscreen TVs and floor to ceiling windows said to promote therapeutic healing. The Royal College of Nursing is worried that there aren't enough nurses for this new layout.

Not enough nurses, too many porters. Although more nurses and porters are being hired for the hospital, these new hospital designs are shifting divisions of labour on the wards. What does it mean that the vacuum transfer system will make the hospital less reliant on porters? How will the work load of nurses change with these single bed rooms? Are architects now becoming a new healing profession, with their therapeutic window designs?

Pneumatic tube technologies and other aspects of contemporary hospital design raise these kinds of questions about how healthcare professions are continually evolving, and I had plenty to think about while joining the discussions at Queen's.

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