The Operating Theatre Technician
The Needs of the Times
So it was then that the male theatre assistants started to disappear after the Great War, but never the less quite a good proportion were still in employment, this was as a result of a good proportion of the Nurses returned to home life and had children, and there was no maternity pay then. It was the case however that the surgeon had got used to the gentle submissive character of the nurse in theatres, and some preferred them for that reason. It is also true to say that the women were less costly to employ, and in the pre-NHS world that was a large bargaining factor for the women.
Then the depression hit the world, the great stock exchange crash of the late 20s put many out of employment. Then the Second World War was upon us, and the military recruited in huge numbers soldiers to train as Operating Theatre Technicians. The women you see were not required to go into the forward hospitals and Field Surgical teams, just the base hospitals.
Post war there were a lot of these OTTs who returned to civilian jobs, and especially in the big hospitals of the capital and South East they were welcomed as an asset to the anaesthetic role that required you not only to assist the anaesthetist but also help in many other areas, the training received in the services was far better than most civilian nurse and Doctor expected.
It was on the advice of the pioneering anaesthetist Ivan Magill to an OTT who worked at the UCH called Stan Warner, when he said that
"Its time you lot got together and produced a training programme so that anaesthetists where ever they went can get the same standard of assistants where ever they go" 12
That statement led to five OTTs discuss and form the Institute of Operating Department Technicians, in a pub, in London.
A couple of years ago now I had a very long discussion with Frank Pyke who I probably met when I worked at the Brook hospital in 1978. He told me how the feeling was at the end of the war; OTTs were being discharged from the military, although trained to work in the theatre environment they found it difficult to find employment for what they were trained to do, and especially in the North, being offered jobs as porters at best.
The basis of the problem was that in general apart from the service personnel who left and joined a hospital after the war, the theatre attendant (as the male worker in theatre was known at that time) was basically self-taught, and there was no formal training to speak of. 14
So the Association was formed and a training programme was set in place, although they trained for all aspects of theatre work, they concentrated their main efforts on the then developing anaesthetic side of the profession. The committee then wrote to the BMJ with support from many areas to ask them to recognise the OTT.
A couple of years after the formation Stan Warner wrote for support from the BMJ for the Association of Operating Theatre Technicians. Part of it read:
24 may 1947
Association of Operating Theatre Technicians
Now a body of men with many years' experience in. theatre work have formed an association under the heading of the “Association of Operating Theatre Technicians,” 15
Part of the BMJ response after deliberation with their various committees:
“Anaesthetists Group Committee of the Association lately received a deputation from the Association of Operating Theatre Technicians, who desire to establish themselves as a recognized auxiliary,
The Anaesthetists Group Committee feel that the time is appropriate officially to recognize this auxiliary occupation, and this view has been endorsed by the Consultants and Specialists Committee of the Association. 16