Leeds nostalgia: New book on history of haematology in city

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A new hospital history book tells the story of haematology in Leeds.

The history of haematology in Leeds and the characters and politics behind the scenes at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) witnessed during a career of over 40 years have been brought to life in a newly-published book by a former consultant.

Dr Bryon Roberts, who retired as head of the Institute of Pathology at Leeds General Infirmary 16 years ago, has penned the personal memoir called Blood On My Hands: A Haematological Odyssey.

All proceeds from the book will help raise money for the Friends of the Leukaemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma Unit.

Dr Roberts, who now lives in Roundhay, first came to the Leeds Medical School in 1951, when Leeds was a drab, soot-blackened city where food and clothes rationing had only just ended.

The National Health Service was almost brand new but even in those early years the service was struggling for money.

The book brings to life many of the characters Dr Roberts encountered during his training at the Infirmary, particularly the formidable consultants whose gleaming Rolls-Royces were in stark contrast to the austerity at large in Leeds as a whole.

Haematology, the study of blood disorders, was still in its relative infancy at the time Dr Roberts became a registrar in pathology, and the book charts its rise to prominence and the characters who made that possible as well as some key technological developments.

Also tied up with the story is the development of the Infirmary itself, the thwarted plans to knock down the entire building and redevelop it, and the compromise which created the Clarendon Wing.

He takes the story through to the mid-1990s, when he was director of the recently created Institute of Pathology, and also tells the story of the Friends of the Leukaemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma Unit and the fantastic fundraising they have undertaken over the years.

“I was originally encouraged to write a history of haematology in the city by the department itself, and my initial reaction when I came to consider writing the book was one of slight embarrassment,” Dr Roberts said.

“However, as I got more involved in the planning I realised how few of the people I worked with in those early days were still around and that it was important to write down my memories so they could form a historical record.

“I was originally going to concentrate simply on haematology but I realised the story of its development was tied up with the wider story of the LGI and the people who worked there as well as giving an insight into the first years of the NHS which I hope the general reader will find of interest.”

The book is already on sale on amazon but locally it can be ordered at a cost of £10 with £5 going to the Friends of the Leukaemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma Unit. To order a copy please email sheila.day@leedsth.nhs.uk or gill.needham@leedsth.nhs.uk .

One reviewer said: “This is a story of a young doctor who decided to specialise in a discipline, haematology, which did not exist at that time in the NHS. This book describes the difficulty he had in establishing this speciality in Leeds against a myriad of social and political changes over 50 years.

“There were several interwoven narratives: my training, undergraduate and post graduate; a description of hospital life from the 1950s to the 1990s, and politics both local and national which affected planning and the development of specialties within the hospital.

“Finally over this time there were a series of momentous developments in biological and medical sciences all of which conspired to make haematology one of the most exciting specialities in the whole of medicine.”

By far the longest-established of the city’s hospitals, The General Infirmary at Leeds dates back to June 1767 when an Infirmary “for the relief of the sick and hurt poor within this parish” was set up in a private house in Kirkgate.

The General Infirmary’s first purpose-built home opened in 1771 close to City Square and that small building began a process of almost continual expansion to try and keep pace with the growth of the township of Leeds during the Industrial Revolution. This culminated in a move to an impressive new site on Great George Street in 1868.

The Infirmary building designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott remains one of the great Victorian icons of Leeds but over the years it has burst out of its original boundaries with the addition of new wings in divergent architectural styles.

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