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Scotland’s specialist spinal unit celebrates 25 years of life-changing work

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

It’s a place that has seen tears and triumph, despair and determination, but in its 25 years the Spinal Unit at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital has undoubtedly touched, and changed the lives of many.

Since opening in 1992, in what was then the Southern General campus, staff have treated more than 3500 patients and a further 120 new patients each year who have traumatic spinal cord injury  - and remain with them throughout their lives. This allows them to maximise their ability to function and to prevent complications of paralysis.

Put simply, it’s the place patients are brought to from all over Scotland following catastrophic spinal injuries.

Karen McCarron is the senior charge nurse in the outpatient clinic and has worked at the unit since it first opened its doors.

Over 25 years, she has seen a lot of changes, not only in the care and treatment for patients, but also the age of patients coming into the unit with injuries.

Karen said: “Back in the 80s and 90s, the patients requiring care for a spinal injury were mostly young males, but now we are seeing older patients come through the unit.

“This reflects what’s happening across all areas of the NHS as we are seeing an increase in the elderly population in society. We are all living longer but many of us are frailer with medical conditions that can increase the incidence of falls.”

Facilities in the unit include a combined admission ward and high-dependency unit, as well as a rehabilitation ward with respiratory care. There is also a dedicated step-down unit for patients and relatives that provides support for those who are ready to move back into their own homes after spending many months in the unit.

There has also recently been the development of a Horatio’s therapy garden at the unit that provides patients with an oasis of calm, including a greenhouse to grow vegetables and plants, and a play area for patients’ children and grandchildren to enjoy when they visit.

Karen loves her job, but recognises that some colleagues can find it difficult to deal with the extent of the injuries that some patients have sustained.

She added: “The part of my job I love is seeing the patients as they progress in rehabilitation. A lot of them will come to us for most of their life, but we get to see them advance. We have watched young people grow up into adults and get married.

“I cannot believe it is 25 years since the unit opened but at the heart of the unit is still the basic nursing care of patients. However, nurses are now also providing some medical tasks - that’s a massive change and is testament to the nursing profession that it’s adapting to modern medicine.”


For further information either telephone 0141 201 4429 or email [email protected]

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Last Updated: 11 November 2021