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Keeping NHS Titanic afloat

Professor Brendan Cooper

Prof Cooper has been both Chair and President of his professional body, The Association for Respiratory Technology and Physiology, and is the first President of the Academy for Healthcare Science. He works hard to promote ‘One Voice’ for all healthcare scientists by working with healthcare science professional bodies and Royal Colleges and, externally, with ministers for health, chief scientific officers and other healthcare organisations.  

I’ve been pondering about a recent trip I made to Belfast and its unbreakable links with the Titanic. Thinking around the whole Titanic story I want to use an analogy between RMS Titanic and NHS Titanic to help change the patient/public perception of healthcare scientists.

Built more than 30 years after RMS Titanic, NHS Titanic was built to be watertight - with several improvements, modifications and upgrades - but is still sinkable if sailed recklessly!  

On the bridge we find our NHS leaders in all the professions steering and controlling the ship, always trying to deliver a First Class service since, unlike other healthcare systems, there are no second or third-rate passengers (patients) in the NHS.

The passengers (patients) are looked after by the silver services provided by the patient-facing physiologists, nurses, doctors and allied health professionals.

However, what is often overlooked in the Titanic story were the people who worked in the engine room. On NHS Titanic, they’re the behind-the-scenes healthcare scientists stoking the boilers of the pathology lab or maintaining the engineering in the physics department.

All the crew are just as important as the team on the bridge, but rarely get the public recognition for what important roles they undertake every day.

We could consider the White Star Line of the health departments of the devolved governments, the commissioners and the monitors asking the ship to work harder and go faster, but providing no more fuel or safety as we head into dangerous waters.

However, in the lookout is the Academy for Healthcare Science (and other healthcare institutions/professions), looking into the gloom, guiding the officers and warning of the dangers ahead. Only a fool would ignore their cries.

By pulling together as one crew, with One Voice, we should, hopefully, never need the lifeboats of redundancy, privatisation or special measures. By adapting to the weather conditions with our experience, skills and intelligence, we can help save the ship and avert disaster.

However, that depends upon healthcare science leaders being given the opportunities to advise on helping to operate the ship and avoid the icebergs of uncertainty looming out of the mist.

We need to be vigilant, and alter our course and speed so that we help take our ship and patients on a safe passage. NHS Titanic should not be allowed to sink.

The next time you visit your GP or hospital and have some bloods done, remember the team of scientists in the pathology engine room - processing, analysing and accurately reporting the blood results. 

You may be a patient with obstructive sleep apnoea and meet the clinical physiologists, who are scientists, not nurses. 

The Academy for Healthcare Science is the overarching professional body that represents all branches of healthcare science in the four devolved healthcare systems of the UK. 

We work to act as the One Voice of healthcare science, raising awareness of the needs of maintaining a strong, well-trained workforce, protecting patients from harm and promoting quality standards for all scientific services. Visit our website on





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Previous comments ...

Austen McCracken 16-Oct-2017 at 09:07 hrs

Having cared for my wife, who was diagnosed having Alzheimers for 14 years ago, at home and never in a nursing home, never had a urinary tract infection,never had a bed sore - the challenge was titanic but always a joy and considered a pleasure because I discovered the NHS to be key! Nutrition - a good balanced diet and personally fed when not able to feed herself. Hygiene - making sure my wife was always clean even after being washed by the professional carers. When attending my wife paying particular attention to my own personal hygiene. Stimulation - vital - mentally:physically:spiritually: eg;one year,using our Translink Pass we did 250 return trips on the train. And there's more..... Overall,an amazing experience which was full of joy and pleasure - thinking positively.


michael patton 15-Oct-2017 at 17:30 hrs

An interesting and thought provoking article. Made me look at
NHS from a different perspective.


John James 14-Oct-2017 at 18:36 hrs

Professor Cooper is absolutely correct, our wonderful NHS relies on a hidden army of people,working hard behind the scenes to keep the ship afloat. We are indebted to them for our very lives.

However the NHS is facing the giant iceberg of Tory privatisation; if you think that it won't be so bad,just take a look across the pond, where they do not have Universal Health Care and the millions of people who are going to suffer and die in silent agony because of Trump.

That is why we must not be silent and to make our voices heard on demonstrations, marches and the ballot box. We want Professor Cooper and his colleagues to be supported; not the fat cats, business oligarchs and shareholders of a privatised system.

Universal Healthcare is fair, because it comes from taxation, the wealthier you are, the more you pay; no-one dies because they cannot afford a Doctor.

We must salute the invaluable work of Professor Cooper and his colleagues and we must fight for it to continue.


A Gamble 14-Oct-2017 at 07:13 hrs

I do think that patients appreciate the backroom boys and girls in the NHS. However, there is a lot of WASTE in all civil and public service bodies which should be addressed and stopped by management through whistle blowers. WHISTLE BLOWERS know exactly where all the problems are but are afraid to report them because they know they will be ostracised by management and their colleagues. Whistle blowers (both employed and also patients and relatives in the Health Service) should be protected by complete confidentiality. 'PRIVATISATION' is a waste of money because the organisations are only INTERESTED IN PROFIT FROM THE PUBLIC PURSE.
It is also shameful that all the nursing homes in NI are privatised. The residents are bullied, neglected, and abused especially if they dare to speak out. Alternatively, their contract can be terminated in 24 hours if the residents or their relatives are identified by the private companies as troublemakers. There should be a mixed economy of private and statutory care because the statutory sector is better trained, the ratio of staff is more likely to be correct, the food and care is better, etc. There are 1500 vacant nursing posts in NI. A employed nursing post is approx. £28,000 a year whereas PRIVATE LOCUM NURSES cost NI £100,000. It is a scandal that locums are paid so much because they have been educated, and employed at some stage by the public purse. What is Government going to do about these matters? Maybe this month when we either get Direct Rule or the Assembly in place, these matters will be addressed.


charlie lynn 13-Oct-2017 at 19:25 hrs

so hard to imagine a first class N.H.S. with cuts and more cuts by a very right wing conservative government.
so sorry my comment is so negative.