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Trust Clinical Physiologist Sarah Walsh on her role in Cause of Death

Photo of Sarah Walsh

The Cause of Death series on Channel 5 has shone a light on real life coronial investigations, going behind the scenes as medical mysteries are solved.

Among those helping solve those mysteries are certain professionals within the NHS, whose roles may be less well known to the public.

Indeed, some areas are so under the radar, Sarah Walsh, a Clinical Physiologist with Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who appears in Episode 2 of Series 2, admits she wasn’t aware her post was an option when she joined the Trust in 2008.

She smiled: “I didn’t even know this job existed when I applied! I had seen an advert in the Lancashire Post.

"I have always had a passion for biology and applied for the job. I went back to University and worked my way up through the department. I have been working in pacing for over 15 years now."

A physiologist, in Sarah’s case, conducts a range of tests on patients’ pacemakers every 12 months, making sure the leads attached to the pacemaker are electrically intact, checking heart rate histograms, and any fast heart rates it may have picked up.

She loves what she does: “Before working in the NHS, I worked at Asda while studying biological sciences at University. I always enjoy checking people's pacemakers, and this job has exceeded my expectations."

Her role was highlighted in Cause of Death, as Sarah had to turn off a patient’s ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) so it didn’t give an electric shock when it was being taken out.

She explained: “The pacemaker is working on the shelf before it is implanted. It continues to pace the heart after death, until the battery runs out. When I reviewed the readings for this particular patient, I was confused because the results did not indicate any life-threatening heart rhythm. However, upon reviewing the device’s recordings, it became clear that the patient had already passed away, which was unfortunate.

“Some patients who have a pacemaker may believe that it will prolong their live when they may be ready to pass away. Additionally, some staff members ask whether you the pacemaker can be turned off, but it is not possible. Some patients rely on their pacemaker all the time and turning it off would cause even more discomfort towards the end of their life.”

The series brings taboo subjects to the fore, and hits home emotionally as the reaction of friends and relatives is documented. Sarah added: “It was interesting to observe a person’s backstory in the series. Since we don’t implant ICDs and I have not been responsible for the patient’s treatment from the beginning, it’s not as upsetting to have to turn it off. It would be worse in a tertiary centre because you know the patient.

“It was a surprise to be involved in the filming, I wasn’t expecting it since we rarely go down to the mortuary. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the experience. Although I am normally a shy person, I am knowledgeable about my field and felt comfortable doing it.”

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