This weblog is a part of Illness Detectives, a collection which showcases PHE science. On this version, we’re highlighting the work of Neil Bentley, Head of Specialist Microbiology Technical Providers for Public Well being England.
Neil started his profession again in 1983, becoming a member of within the Royal Military Medical Corps as a trainee Laboratory Medical Technician and progressing his profession throughout the Military for the following 13 years. He earned his stripes doing giant scale diagnostic work after which was posted abroad to Hong Kong, Brunei and Belize.
Neil would go on to design and lead the microbiology and public well being coaching for all navy biomedical science trainees.
Neil left the Military as a Senior Medical Scientist and in 1997 he joined the PHE workforce at Addenbrookes Hospital, ultimately changing into Head of Operations in Cambridge.
A world first in laboratory automation
Neil’s ambition when he turned Head of Operations at Cambridge was to make the Cambridge microbiology lab the perfect microbiology lab on the earth.
Again in 1997, when Neil joined the workforce in Cambridge the PHE laboratory was working on a 9 to 5pm, Monday to Friday and Saturday morning shift sample – counting on slower labour intensive strategies of testing samples. Neil’s plan was to automate some laboratory procedures which might pace up experiments. He then modified the working shifts to a 7 day shift sample after which onto a 24 hour shift sample.
It is like a combination between an web café and a sushi bar
His work automating the dealing with of agar plates on the Cambridge laboratories has remodeled the operation. Now it is like a combination between an web café and a sushi bar joined collectively – the plates could be robotically inoculated then a monitor takes them to the incubator and after incubation, the photographed picture of the plate is offered to be learn by a biomedical scientist.
These plates needing additional work then come out of the incubator by way of a monitor for supplementary work like antimicrobial susceptibility testing. Then they arrive out on a monitor to you however you don’t have to take a look at the plate except you wish to work on it – you’ll be able to simply have a look at the picture of it on a pc display.
Cambridge was one of many first laboratories on the earth to implement this sort of automation into the sector of micro and bacteriology.
As soon as Neil had modernised the Cambridge labs, he was then requested to tackle the place of Head of Technical and Scientific Providers for the organisation, tasked to implement the identical modernisation all through the nation. This continues to be Neil’s function throughout the organisation.
On the frontline within the struggle towards Ebola
A turning level in Neil’s profession and life got here in the summertime 2014 when he was requested to arrange three laboratories in Sierra Leone firstly of the Ebola outbreak. His function was to develop and lead the operation to arrange the laboratories from scratch throughout the African bush and to organise an acceptable in-country chilly chain provide of chemical substances and gear from the UK, in addition to sourcing primary necessities like water and electrical energy.
Because the laboratories opened, it rapidly turned obvious that the supply of diagnostic providers was solely part of the general public well being necessities wanted. There was additionally a requirement to coach and develop native healthcare and help workers on how you can successfully receive affected person samples and transport them to the laboratories as rapidly as attainable.
Neil and his workforce set-up group coaching at native medical centres and labored with native transport groups to hurry up pattern supply. Rushing up the time taken to check samples was crucial to saving lives as sufferers would come to Ebola holding centres on the onset of pyrexia (raised temperature).
Neil’s workforce efficiently minimised the time wanted to check samples from 5 days to 24-hours – an enormous achievement which may have saved hundreds of lives because the likelihood of cross an infection inside holding centres was vital.
On subsequent visits to Sierra Leone, Neil modified his focus to assist coordinate laboratories at a nationwide stage, supporting the Sierra Leone Ministry of Well being and Sanitation and worldwide companions to implement measures required to manage the outbreak centrally.
In fact, Neil skirts over the selfless braveness and albeit heroic act of agreeing to go to Sierra Leone. It takes a sure particular person to comply with put themselves in such a doubtlessly harmful scenario, with so many people sitting by watching the horrors unfold on the information. We watched however Neil didn’t, he left his household and acquired on a airplane.
Was he ever scared about going out to Sierra Leone to struggle Ebola? No, I perceive about Ebola. I do know concerning the illness and I understand how it’s transferred. We had been in a managed surroundings, if we labored with sufferers – they may very well be unpredictable, a test-tube with blood in is completely predicable. However I noticed such struggling and despair that may stick with me eternally however the job wanted to be achieved. And as such, Neil returned seven instances to Sierra Leone and would go in a heartbeat if requested once more.
Neil obtained his OBE in 2016 in recognition of actions within the area of public well being, and for his function as liaison between the British and Sierra Leone governments. Final month, Neil was awarded with an Honorary Doctorate in Medical Sciences from Anglia Ruskin College however he doesn’t see himself as worthy. At the same time as he obtained his award, his speech was stuffed with encouragement and recommendation to his fellow graduates amassing their certificates on the similar time. Not a time for him to wallow in pleasure, however to proceed to encourage the following technology of illness detectives venturing into an ever-changing world the place possibly they are going to be requested to step up and make an actual distinction.
Like this weblog? Read more from our Disease Detectives series on the collection page.