As lead post-mortem radiographer Amy Brookes says: “This is a very hidden part of healthcare – not many people know what we do or how we do it.”
But Channel 5 series Cause of Death has helped shine a light on what is a very significant and interesting role within the NHS.
The Radiography team, alongside a number of other important colleagues – Pathology and Anatomical Pathology Technologists, Consultant Radiologists, Lead Medical Examiner Officers, Critical Care Medicine Consultants, Specialist Organ Donation Nurses, Consultants in Neuropathology – were filmed over six months, working alongside the Coroner’s Office and Lancashire Police, with the unprecedented access providing a unique insight into the coronial process.
To add to the intrusion of the cameras, filming took place towards the back end of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the series – which comes to an end with Wednesday evening’s Episode 4 – has been well received, and Amy believes: “Overall we think it’s been a really great thing for the hospital and the work we do.”
It is important to note the differences between radiology and radiography, with both have a role in the use of medical imaging procedures, but the responsibilities, training and opportunities are different.
It is a common mistake to mix both up – and, indeed, both rely on each other every day.
But, to use the dictionary, radiology is “a branch of medicine concerned with the use of radiant energy (such as X-rays) or radioactive material in the diagnosis and treatment of disease, and radiography “the art, act, or process of making radiographs (X-rays or gamma ray photographs).”
Amy is happy to see radiography on the map: “It’s felt good, to be featured.
“Obviously we felt like we weren’t as well represented as how we wanted to be, and you kind of find that a lot with radiography – we’re kind of the forgotten role in the hospital – so overall we think it’s been a really great thing for the hospital, and the work we do.
“This is a very hidden part of healthcare – not many people know what we do or how we do it, and it’s important people can see when their relatives come here, they are looked after, and we scan them and get them released back to their families as soon as possible.
“A lot of people don’t know this can be an option, and in some jurisdictions, depending on the coroner, it’s not, because it’s their decision how the body is investigated in terms of cause of death, but the feedback we get, some families have stated that it is comforting to know their loved one has had a PMCT (Post-Mortem Computed Tomography) scan, rather than a traditional post mortem, especially in religious communities, not having post mortems.
“We’ve also been getting queries through already, students contacting us to come and work with us and see how we do the job.”
So what are the differences between a radiologist and a radiographer?: “Radiologists are the medical doctors, and their roles are usually to report scans, x-rays, and they also do more complicated things with ultrasound, and also do interventional stuff as well, stent insertion, biopsies, the more complex things.
“With radiographers, it did start off as we were just taking the scans and x-rays, but we are bridging the gap now between radiology and radiography – a lot of radiographers are now going into reporting, you have consultant radiographers who are doing a lot of things in interventional work, putting in pegs, lines, so there is becoming less of a gap.”
As a “hidden” part of healthcare, how did Amy and her team, and Specialist Radiographers Beckie Western and Ben McManoman, get into the job?
Ben said: “I went to Connections (recruitment consultants) and filled in a survey – I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and looked at the options and looked into it a bit more.”
Beckie added: “I knew I wanted to do something medical but I knew I didn’t want to be a nurse – hats off to them with all the hands-on care – so I researched a few different roles, and this was the one I found most interesting. There are so many different aspects of radiology, you start off doing x-rays and can branch off into different roles.”
And Amy explained: “My grandmother was a nurse, and I knew I wanted to work in the hospital, but nursing was not for me. I looked at the other roles and saw how much development there seemed to be in radiography and found that interesting.”
To start with, you need to take a three-year undergraduate BSc initially, although with most elements of radiography you then have to go back to University for a post-graduate degree.
As Ben smiled: “You’re always learning!”
The team have had to get used to featuring on the television and their phones have been buzzing.
Amy said: “I had a couple of texts saying ‘I’ve seen you on the telly!’, and they’ve said, from their point of view, a non-professional standing, they understand it enough and it comes across very professionally, it’s not full of medical jargon, from our side, which they enjoyed, they could understand what we were going on about.
“It’s odd, when you see your picture…we have a work whatsapp group and we all send each other screenshots, ‘oh it’s you advertising it this week’.”
Beckie added: “I didn’t work here when they filmed it, but my family have all enjoyed it because they can see what you do on a day to day basis, they’ve found it interesting, seeing my workplace.”
And Beckie might get her moment of fame if there is a second series, as Amy said: “Because it’s been so well-received, we would consider it, we’ve already told Beckie she can be the new star!”
- Tonight sees the final episode of Channel 5’s Cause of Death.
- In the final episode are Justine Jackson, Danielle Lucas, Amy Brookes, Sue Kearney, Catherine Roberts, Simon Beardmore and Tim Dawson, and again we thank them for their understanding and cooperation at what was an already challenging time at work.
- For anyone for whom the subject matter of Cause of Death may be upsetting, please remember we have a range of health and wellbeing services available which can be accessed via the internet by searching for "Health & Wellbeing" on it.
- All four episodes are still available on the My5 app or on Channel 5's website.