East London medics win award for improving tests for brain haemorrhages

A team of medics at The Royal London Hospital have won a national award for improving detection of suspected brain haemorrhages.

The clinical biochemistry team at the Whitechapel Road hospital won the award in the Patient Safety in Diagnosis category at the National Health Service Journal’s Patient Safety and Care Integration Awards last month.

The team’s winning entry focused on a highly specialised test to discover if a patient has suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage – a type of stroke, caused by bleeding in and around the brain.

Fiona Riddoch, Barts Health principal clinical biochemist, said: “We have worked with clinical teams requesting the test to make it far more reliable, so improving patient safety. We have also extended testing to the weekend so that patients whose test shows they don’t have a brain haemorrhage can be discharged.

“The judges were impressed that this was achieved at no extra cost to the organisation and through multidisciplinary and multi-professional collaboration.”

The main symptom of a subarachnoid haemorrhage is a severe headache that starts suddenly and is often worse near the back of the head. Patients often describe it as the “worst headache ever” and unlike any other type of headache pain. The headache may start after a popping or snapping feeling in the head. The pain is debilitating so tests have to be accurate and timely.

Previous tests involved taking a sample of the patient’s cerebral spinal fluid in a risky and painful procedure that cannot be repeated for three weeks.

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Under the old system, results were not always reliable, because the single sample of fluid collected was prone to contamination because of the number of times it was opened in order to take repeat samples for the different tests required. With the new system, the collection packs contain several tubes which are clearly labelled with the name of each of the different tests required, minimising the risk of contamination in having only one large sample which was opened multiple times.