Fond farewell to Edinburgh Western General's famed department of Neuroscience

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NHS Lothian bids farewell to pioneering department

NHS Lothian is saying its final farewell to the pioneering Western General department of Neuroscience, which has attracted worldwide attention over the decades thanks to its unique design and leading role in advancing neurology and neurosurgery.

The post-war built Department of Clinical Neurosciences (DCN) has been going through a phased move into a new dedicated building in Little France. Staff have admitted the move is bittersweet and “tinged with sadness” as the team say goodbye to a historic building with many fond memories.

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Frank McDermott, who is the Clinical Lead for Neurosurgery at the Western, believes the memories attached to the building will make departing for the final time very tough.

Staff just before the move to the new premises.Staff just before the move to the new premises.
Staff just before the move to the new premises.

He said: “It will be a sad day because that will be the building closed, and it will never reopen again.

“You feel a sense of pride and history when you work there. It’s a unique building.”

The Western General Department of Neuroscience opened in 1960 and gained global acclaim because of its world leading facilities and the innovative design of its operating theatres.

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Designed by Professor Norman Dott, the theatres included unique reflector vaulted roofs that are a signature of the historic ward.

He said: “People come and visit and say ‘wow this is like a spaceship’. It’s got a lot of character to it, and you will never see anything like this again.

“For the technology they put into the department, they were really ahead of their time. They even had a plunge pool for physiotherapy. That was unheard of back then.”

The first patients were welcomed into the new Little France facility in May, with all patients transferred by Thursday next week.

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Clinical Nurse and Commissioning Manager, Hester Niven, who worked within the Department at the Western for 20 years, and played an important role in the move to Little France, believes the Western created a sense of “strength and resilience” in the team.

She said: “The Western is the kind place that gets you. There’s such a variety in the conditions of the patients, and there’s a real sense of teamwork and family in the department. We all just work together.”

The opening and move to the new Hospital was delayed in July last year after last minute checks revealed the ventilation in critical care areas did not meet the required standard.

She added “Last year it was devastating when the move was cancelled in the final hour. It happened on the Thursday night, and we were due to be moving in the next week, but we got our heads down and got back to what we are there to do – look after the patients and do the best for them.”

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Frank Miller, who began working at the Western in 1991, and within the DCN in 2005, said it’s the “end of an era”.

He said: “It’s a hospital I’ve always enjoyed working in. Great friendships have been made, and DCN has a great atmosphere.”

The Western has been a part of Miller’s life since its inception, with his father being a patient in DCN in 1961. He met his wife Sarah whilst working together in the Western, and his fellow colleague was his best man.

He said: “The theatres themselves are literally an out of this world design. The acoustics are brilliant. We had a couple of members of staff who would literally sing, because the acoustics were so good, and it gave them a great atmosphere for them.”

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Team Lead within the DCN, Barbara Cassie, also spoke of the team atmosphere that was built through the years in the Western.

She said: “We all multi-skill in our department. We work together as one, which makes our team work effortlessly. For me the Western General will always hold a lot of special memories.”

The DCN in Little France will have a dedicated building as part of the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People and includes state of the art facilities designed specifically for the team and their patients.

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