Malcolm is a biomedical scientist from Western Sussex NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust. He won both Advancing Healthcare awards for his work with Harvey’s Gang, a charity which gives children VIP tours of laboratories so they can understand what happens to their blood samples.
HSL Online sat down with Malcolm to find out the story behind Harvey’s Gang and his reflections after the awards.
How does it feel to be a double award winner?
I feel over the moon to win both awards. To be recognised as biomedical scientist of the year among 20,000 biomedical scientists in the country is just phenomenal. And then to be named overall winner… I was completely blown away. It was a very emotional moment for me as there were so many excellent categories and winners on the day. It really was incredible and I feel so honoured to be recognised in this way.
The profile it’s given Harvey’s Gang is also magnificent. I’m sure it’ll help us expand and reach even more children and their families.
Tell us a bit about what you do and the story behind Harvey’s Gang.
Day-to-day I’m a chief biomedical scientist in charge of blood transfusion across two fairly busy hospitals in Western Sussex. I also continue to grow Harvey’s Gang, bringing in more children from our own trust and trusts across the country.
The story of Harvey’s Gang began in 2013, with a very inquisitive six year old boy called Harvey Buster Baldwin. Harvey was being treated for leukaemia at Worthing Hospital, where I worked as a biomedical scientist. He was very curious about his blood – where it went, what happened to it, and why it needed to be tested so many times. So we decided to organise a special laboratory tour for him, complete with his own lab coat and security badge.
During the tour we showed him the specialist machines in the lab, and he even got to look down the microscope to see his own red cells, white cells and platelets (or chicken soup, as he called them). He met the laboratory staff and asked lots of questions about what they do and how the blood is tested. Even from that short visit, you could see how fascinated he was by our work in the laboratory.
Sadly, 18 months later Harvey lost his battle with leukaemia. It wasn’t until his farewell service, when a picture of us was projected up on screen, that I realised the true impact that day had had on his life. The tour had not only brought him a great deal of happiness, it had also empowered him as a patient.
I was later approached by Harvey’s consultant, who said he had seven other critically ill children who wanted to visit the laboratory. I knew then that we had stumbled onto something very special, and Harvey’s Gang was born.
How has Harvey’s Gang grown?
Like any scientist, we reflected on what we did well and what could be improved. We realised that if Harvey’s Gang was going to grow we needed to standardise the experience for each child, so we spent a lot of time sourcing lab coats, creating goodie bags and developing security badge templates that could be adapted for each hospital.
We’ve had more than 400 children visit hospital laboratories as a part of Harvey’s Gang, and we’re now expanding into pharmacy as well as pathology. Children are getting to meet the pharmacists and robots that dispense their prescriptions. They can also visit the chemotherapy area and actually see where their chemo is being made up.
Harvey’s Gang now have tours in 40 trusts (with an additional 19 working towards starting), and is exporting to EIRE, USA, Canada and Tasmania.
What impact do you think Harvey’s Gang has on patients and staff?
I think it’s incredibly empowering for these children to understand what happens to their blood samples, or where their medication comes from. They gain so much knowledge from these visits – but they also have so much to teach us too. It’s usually the children who are experts in hand washing, for example, and they love to tell us how to do it properly!
It’s humbling to be around those who have the world on their shoulders but a smile on their face. For the laboratory staff, it’s always a joy to meet the patient behind the sample. Laboratory work can often involve a lot of number-crunching, so it’s always good to be reminded that the lives of real people sit behind everything we do.
By building relationships between staff, patients and their families, I really believe that Harvey’s Gang is helping to improve care and give these children the best possible experience in hospital. I feel truly proud to be involved.