£11m lab centre ‘puts Sheffield on leading edge’

Medical Lab Opening

Medical Lab Opening

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It’s a place where unusual machines bleep and whirr, medics are constantly busy overseeing vital tests, and a giant fridge is set aside to hold nearly 30,000 samples...

Welcome to Sheffield’s new state-of-the-art Laboratory Medicine Centre, an £11 million facility designed to streamline the way blood tests and other checks are carried out.

The building is geared up to handle 10 million tests a year, providing results for A&E patients and GP surgeries in the city, as well as hospitals around the UK and even as far away as Canada.

The three-storey building houses equipment and departments which look for the signs of deadly diseases such as leukaemia, lymphoma and meningitis, as well as hundreds of allergies and a host of more common illnesses.

Set up as part of a £16m overhaul of the labs at the Royal Hallamshire and Northern General hospitals, the centre brings together departments including immunology, virology and haematology.

Peter Blair, laboratory medicine directorate manager, said the facility will help make services ‘more efficient’.

“The position before was that we had several smaller buildings, broken up into different disciplines - they were separate and all over the place. Being able to combine the different disciplines into one area makes a huge difference.”

He explained that all samples arrive in one area at the entrance, either delivered by hand in bags or sent through a swift vacuum tube system.

The ground floor houses the haematology labs, which feature three machines dedicated to cellular blood tests.

“We carry out 100 samples an hour but we have the capability for 300,” said Andy Ward, lead laboratory manager.

The machines - named Frodo, Gandalf and Bilbo after characters from The Lord of the Rings books - analyse blood samples for conditions such as cancer and anaemia.

A robot arm sorts the specimens into racks, and a huge fridge keeps 27,060 test tubes cool.

Upstairs on the second floor the virology labs are found, where matters are more technical.

Microbiologists are able to grow human samples on agar plates in just 24 hours, while in specially-sealed rooms, staff test specimens for sensitive conditions such as swine flu, TB and norovirus.

The rooms are protected with a two-tonne door, thick enough to take any potential intruder half an hour to drill through.

Meanwhile on the top floor Andy Richardson is in charge of the impressive Immunocap 1000, which tests for allergies from peanuts, to seafood and even moose meat. “We can do around 900 allergy tests, and we do around five or six hundred tests a day,” said Andy.

Tony Pedder, chairman of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said the centre was ‘really impressive’.

“It puts Sheffield on something of a leading edge - which, actually, is where we have to be,” he said.

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