The PioneersThe MilitaryReferences

The Operating Theatre Technician

 The Cinderella Profession

Life however was a continued struggle; the Theatre technician was in general limited to the anaesthetic aspect of theatre. There were many a reason for this, one was in those early days the patient in a lot of cases was “gassed” down and as you know when the patient goes into stage two of unconsciousness they tend to fight, the man’s superior strength was needed to restrain the patient at that point.

It must be said though the main reason is what I call the Loo syndrome; ODPs go to the Gents and nurses go to the Ladies. The Anaesthetic room was the Gents and the Scrub side was the ladies.
It was the case also those patients were transferred to the operating table by stretcher and with limited staff the OTT was a great asset. As a result it was nearly always the case to see a man in the role as OTT.

There were a great deal of Doctors who supported the wider use of OTTs, several of them are very well known globally for instance the extracts from a letter below from the BMj in Feb 1951 is from Alfred Lee who was the co-author of A synopsis of Anaesthesia.
He worked at the Southend hospital (which I myself worked about ten years ago and worked alongside another of the authors of the Synopsis, Rushman.)

Operating Theatre Technicians
We heartily endorse the views expressed in the annotation (January 13, p. 80) dealing with the aims, objects. And scope of work of operating theatre technicians. It is high time that the facts concerning these men were more widely known and that the widespread wholly erroneous belief that they are merely theatre orderlies was corrected.

It goes on to say;

Surely theatre technicians deserve better than to be classed by the Whitley Council with theatre porters and domestic workers, and surely by now a satisfactory decision concerning their status and wage claims should have been reached. 17

He was not the only eminent anaesthetist to support the OTTs plight, there were several others, and many of them are known historically as the great pioneers and modernisers of Anaesthetics.
But on the other side there were those (who due to ignorance did not know who they were) who vehemently opposed us.
Below is an extract taken from a letter from David Aitkin, taken from the BMJ in reply to Alfred Lees letter, it would probably sum up the attitude towards OTTs from most surgeons, the support we got was in the main from anaesthetists, and this ignorant and most likely arrogant surgeon from Sheffield was what they were up against.
The letter also sums up the divide between the North of the country where most theatres were dominated entirely by female Nurses, using men just as porters to put the patients on the table and help position them and the London and big city hospitals that have employed men in a more technicaFig 19l role for years.

Operating Theatre Technicians
I strongly oppose the introduction of operating theatre technicians except at small outlying hospitals which cannot attract sufficient suitable nursing personnel.

It goes on to say;

What will the position of the theatre sister become? A theatre sister worth her salt will not tolerate this intrusion on her rights.

And I suppose his main reason;

Give me the pleasant female nursing staff any time in preference to male. 18


If you read into his letter it seems his argument is against men working in theatre, maybe he feels that he would not be able to bully the staff if they were men.
It is interesting to note that a reply was given by several people to his letter (none in support of his views) but I will show one on the next page in particular, from a senior theatre sister from St Thomas's, one of the biggest hospitals in the world at the time.
Apart from being completely sexist by stating that only women should work in the operating theatre (which could still a silent wish of a lot of surgeons)

It is quite ironic that the letter states that teaching hospitals could well avoid the OTT. However that was Sheffield, in reply to the letter from Aitkin, a Senior Theatre Sister from St Thomas’s hospital in London, which is also one of the most famous teaching hospitals in the world and smack bang in the centre of London, reply’s to his letter with:

Operating Theatre Technician
As senior theatre sister at St. Thomas's Hospital, with many years of experience, I find they are essential to the smooth working of a busy operating unit in a large hospital.



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