Longest serving hospital employee celebrates 38 years of success

This month, Jill Beech, Organisational Lead Healthcare Scientific Officer (LHSO) and Pathology Services Manager, is retiring after almost four decades at Milton Keynes University Hospital.

In our latest blog post, Jill explains why she has stayed loyal to the hospital (becoming one of the longest-serving employees ever) and shares her advice for professionals that are considering building a successful career in Milton Keynes.

I have worked at Milton Keynes University Hospital for 38 years and in that time, progress has been a recurring theme. Some may look at the decades I have remained here and imagine negative connotations, but it is ambition and drive that have kept me in Milton Keynes. No two years have been the same and the chance to get out of my comfort zone and take secondments has been something that I have relished throughout my time here. Support is always available, but people must take responsibility and seek progression for themselves because there are so many opportunities to do so at this hospital.

With almost 200 staff in Pathology, there are always going to be unique and fresh challenges, which has made forming relationships and focusing on people interactions so important. I have seen many colleagues leave and return, as well as others who have departed permanently, but remain in contact and provide CPD sessions for the next generation of talent in Milton Keynes. This is a testament to the team ethos at the hospital, as is the amount of people who stay for years like me, and the sideways steps that remain available in areas such as projects, transformation, operations and so much more. I value the staff I have worked with as individuals and truly believe this is why I have been successful, if I ever implemented a change, I ensured I embedded this into the business and worked through the difficult times if any staff was affected.

Strong foundations

I have a sound scientific grounding as a Healthcare Professions Council registered Biomedical Scientist in Clinical Biochemistry. This extensive practical pathology experience has allowed me to apply a logical approach to problem-solving, pathology management and strategy formulation. My MSc equivalent Pathology Clinical Chemistry Fellowship qualification was gained in 1985, allowing progression into senior Biomedical Scientist roles. This has been complimented with PRINCE 2 Project Management, the Institute of Biomedical Sciences IBMS Extended Quality Management and a Certificate in Management Studies.

I began my career as a Trainee BMS in Sheffield, gaining a sound grounding at The Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Jessops Hospital for Women, and the Children’s Hospital, before moving to Milton Keynes in 1984. The hospital at the time was very quiet, the labs were open and in place before the wards were! Corridors were a sea of green carpet with buttercup yellow handrails and signage. The lab was impressive with shiny new equipment to match. Dr Gamlen was the first consultant that I had encountered and he made himself so accessible to the lab staff. He led by example, commanded respect, and still does. I owe a lot to him. I discovered my best friends Michaela Tait and Yvonne Brown. Both have played a huge part in my life.

I rotated around all sections of the laboratory and participated in the On Call rota, prioritizing urgent workloads and remaining calm under severe pressure. From 1990 to 2001, I held the position of Senior BMS Chemical Pathology, responsible for the reliable provision of accurate biochemical data at an acceptable rate in all sections of the Chemical Pathology department, ensuring the emergency service was available 24/7, 365 days a year.

As Pathology Systems Project Manager (Chief BMS) until 2003, I had the opportunity to advance and broaden my experience working with different organisations, staff and skillsets. I project managed the GP Pathology Messaging project, which necessitated the establishment of a project team comprising both Milton Keynes Acute, PCT, and Bucks Shared Services staff with a high degree of collaboration.

Continued growth

From 2003 to 2011, my role as the first Pan Pathology Quality & Systems Manager at Milton Keynes was a particularly challenging and rewarding opportunity. This position allowed me to design and establish an effective Directorate Pathology Quality Management System. I established effective communication links with all Pathology staff and service users, whilst developing a culture of continual improvement and Change Management procedures.

I led the development of Pathology IT Systems, including the procurement of the Clinisys Winpath, which for many years was used as their ‘Gold standard’ for implementation. Alongside the Head of IMT, I prepared a 9-year £2.2 million business case which received Executive approval and was delivered on time and within budget. I also drove the procurement of QPulse Quality Management Software, as a Trust wide tool. ICE GP Order Coms Implementation saw training and solutions delivered to local GPs and their staff, which was another excellent opportunity to establish direct relationships.

In 2011, as the Milton Keynes Pan-Pathology Transformation, Quality and Systems Manager, I was responsible for the development and delivery of a plan to achieve £1.2M of efficiency savings. In 2012, I became the substantive Pathology Services manager and in 2013, I was invited to participate in the organisation’s Leadership development programme, alongside service operational and clinical leads from across the hospital. In 2014, I became a course tutor for the Core Clinical Management Awareness programme and on completion of the NHS Leadership Academy Nye Bevan programme for aspiring directors in 2016, I became a more self-aware leader, with a greater understanding of my triggers and the impact I had on others.

What has changed over the years?

Pathology has evolved so much since I began my career and the training and development at MKUH are better than ever. The number of roles in the area, from systems quality to business support, point of care, quality control, maintenance and associate practitioners, has increased far beyond expected scientific knowledge and now requires all types of skills and backgrounds.

The degree of automation compared to 1984 is unimaginable. The sample volume required is now tiny, hundreds of times less, which is much better for the patients. The speed of analysis has been reduced and the number of tests that can be performed on one piece of equipment has increased significantly. We now receive over 2,000 bottles per day from 30 GP practices twice a day. That equates to around 2 million tests per year. To put things into perspective, we processed 42,000 tests in July 2022. That’s almost as many as were required in the whole of my first year here.

When I moved to Milton Keynes, it was my first time away from home, from a city where a bus ride anywhere was 5p and everything could be sorted with a cup of tea. I found it difficult to get around as I didn’t drive at the time and the red ways were still being built, so often just stopped in the middle of nowhere!  The shift in how we care for the people that join our team is significant and I am very proud to have played a role in this. The people in the labs induct newcomers who are then quickly embraced by the team, which is very diverse in both ethnicity and age, making for a great workforce.

What does it take to succeed in this area?

I have benefited greatly from seeing and understanding how the hospital works, looking further and deeper, and networking with all the different departments and people. Values were always fundamental for me too, giving me the strength and resilience to lead through uncertain times. Focusing on people is the most important lesson I have learned in my Milton Keynes University Hospital career. In difficult times, from power cuts and floods to pandemics and lockdowns, it’s how a team reacts to the chips being down that shows its real strength. Success is all about dedication and a steadfast commitment to doing what needs to be done.

By not job hopping and staying with MKUH, I have been able to see projects through to completion and the impact they have made. Reflecting on business cases I have delivered continues to give me great pride. Executives here are open to conversations and to consider your ambitions and thoughts. You just need to be brave enough to push on the open door.

What does the future hold?

Milton Keynes has continued to work well with Oxford, Swindon and South Bucks hospitals especially due to common pathology systems and shared experiences. This has included opportunities for staff to undertake joint CPD sessions and spend time in labs at other hospitals, gaining access to specialist services and learning new skills without having to leave their current roles. I expect this networking and consolidation of services to continue to grow in importance, with the shared learning evident at MK eventually becoming the wider standardised approach.

Geographically, an essential services laboratory will always be needed on-site, such as the need for 24/7 results. But this does not mean a sensible approach to resources cannot be taken through joint lab information systems and connectivity. Access to data and info can only benefit outcomes and encourage useful forecasting. The uses of Pathology will also only continue to grow, with knowledge contributing to fit-for-purpose checks in diagnostic settings, staff training and quality assurance, performance, reassurance and so much more.  

I am sure there never seems a good time to retire, as the job is never truly done, but with the exciting new guard coming through at Milton Keynes University Hospital, I know this great bunch of experts will continue to take things to the next level.

To see the latest opportunities available at Milton Keynes University Hospital, visit our careers page.