Healthcare Science Week

The Naked Scientists spoke to Dr Chris Smith visits Westbourne High School in Ipswich
13 November 2005

Interview with 

Dr Chris Smith visits Westbourne High School in Ipswich


Chris - I've gone back to school because I'm at Westbourne High School in Ipswich, which is officially the first school in the whole of the UK to betaking part in Healthcare Science Week. This kicks off around the rest of the country from tomorrow and it will eventually see about 2000 pupils measuring their fitness levels with the help of a healthcare scientist from their local hospital. But the aim isn't just about finding out how fit people are. It's all about telling children about the huge range of jobs for budding scientists that are available in the healthcare system throughout the country. One of the people organising the event is Bev Bailey, who's here with me now. Bev, what's Healthcare Science Week all about and what are you trying to achieve?

Bev - There're two reasons for this. One is that there are around 50 000 scientists working within the health service who very often remain unrecognised for the enormous contribution that they make towards public health within our hospitals and within our communities. The second reason is to try and get more young people interested in science as a long term career. There are over 50 careers within healthcare science itself and it's all to do with research, development, IT, scientists working in the laboratory and scientists working in the community. So there's an enormous scope for any child with even the remotest interest in science to get a good long term career.

Chris - Thanks Bev. Well one of the scientists helping out here today is Andy Poynter from Ipswich Hospital. Andy, what do you do?

Andy - I'm Head of Radiotherapy Physics at Ipswich Hospital. My job is to provide scientific support and expertise for oncologists that work in the department treating cancer patients. I'm delighted to be able to take part in this event because I think there's a real need to promote the work of healthcare scientists. People are just not aware of the important job they play in hospitals today.

Chris - So what are you going to be doing here today with the kids at Westbourne High?

Andy - We'll be measuring three different indices which will give us a snapshot of the students' health. The first one we're going to measure is body mass index, which is basically the weight divided by the square of the height. This gives an index of how over or under weight a student is. We're also going to be measuring their peak expiratory flow, which gives us a good indication of the health of their lungs and how well they can get air out of their lungs. And finally we'll be measuring their rest and racing pulse recovery rates. This means that we get the student to run on the spot for a few minutes and see how quickly their pulse goes up. We'll then be measuring to see how long it takes for the pulse to return to the rest level.

Chris - One of the people that's volunteered to have a go at this is Kim. What have you been up to?

Kim - We took our pulse rate and did some exercise for a minute. We then took our pulse rate again and again after three minutes to see if our pulse rate had got back to normal.

Chris - So how does this help us to work out whether people are fit or not?

Andy - What we're looking for here is that in a fit person, the heart rate will go up very quickly with exercise to provide the blood they need for their muscles. As soon as they stop exercise, the pulse rate will drop to their normal resting level quickly. These are all good signs of excellent cardiovascular health. If we look here at Kim's result, we start with a rest beat of 70. After one minute jogging on the spot she went up to 150, and then after two minutes of stopping, she was back to 90. Four minutes after that she was back to 80 and five minutes after that she was back to 70. This is excellent.

Chris - Would you describe yourself as in excellent fitness Kim?

Kim - I wouldn't say that, but I try.

Chris - Do you take a lot of exercise?

Kim - Yes, I walk to school and back every day and I go swimming every weekend.

Chris - Do you think you're representative of most people your age in terms of the amount of exercise you take, or do you think you're a bit fitter than most?

Kim - I'm probably a bit fitter than most. I do more exercise than most of my friends. They just walk to school and don't do much after that.

Chris - Do you think exercise is important? People are always telling you that it is but do you really believe that it makes a difference to your health?

Kim - Yes I think so because it gives you a healthy body and ensures you can do every day things without getting exhausted.

Chris - Do you think that by taking part in something like this, it helps people to understand how to be fit and healthy?

Kim - Yes, making it fun makes people want to do it more and more.

Chris - So Bev, once everyone has collected all this data, what will you do with the information?

Bev - As the students are collecting their measurements, each school can enter their data directly onto a website that we've set up especially for Healthcare Science Week. As soon as they've entered their measurements, it will calculate and individual chart for that student as well as an indication of where that child's measurements fit in the rest of their class group. Those results are then anonymously downloaded onto the national database

Chris - So this is going to be really useful to find out how fit the nation's school children are. Bev - We're very much hoping so. They're the three main indicators of health, and to the best of our knowledge, there hasn't been anything done like this before. There will be about 2000 individual measurements of children aged between 14 and 16 initially, and then as soon as Healthcare Science Week is over, the website opens up to as many schools as want to do it. The information will continue to grow and we'll end up with a very large database of base line data.

Chris - Right, well I'm off to measure my peak expiratory flow now to see if my lungs are working properly. So from all of us here at the launch of Healthcare Science Week, from Westbourne High School, Bev, Andy and Kim, thank you very much, and back to the studio.


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