Happy birthday to the Queen Elizabeth Spinal Injuries Unit

It is 25 years since the Queen Elizabeth Spinal Injuries Unit opened its doors to patients on what was then known as the Southern General campus.

The unit started caring for patients in Scotland who had a traumatic injury to the spinal cord in 1992 and over the years has continued the life-time care of all its patients to maximise their ability to function and to prevent the complication of paralysis.

Karen McCarron is 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, and a rehabilitation ward with respiratory care. There is also a dedicated step-down unit for patients and relatives that provides support for patients who are ready to move back into their own homes who can have spent 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 staff can find it difficult to deal with the extent of the injuries some patients in the unit 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 is a massive change and is testament to the nursing profession that is adapting to modern medicine.”