Bloodlines is a literary fly-on-the-wall documentary of the past few years at St Thomas' Hospital, London. Journalist Andrew Davidson, son of a Tommy's consultant, appears to have had the run of the hospital for five years as he followed the experiences of patients, doctors, cleaners, press officers, nurses, managers and the mortician. I suspect that if Davidson's tools were camera and microphone rather than pen and paper he would never have been allowed to set foot in the door. Bloodlines is St Thomas', warts, cadavers and all.
The book is also a history lesson from the frontline as it follows Tommy's from financial basket-case through Ken Clarke's reforms, the Tomlinson report and forcible merger with Guy's (it almost looks like a hostile takeover) to its emergence as the politicians' favourite hospital across the river from Westminster. The experiences of Guy's and St Thomas' during this period were a barometer by which the rest of the country, politicians and journalists in particular, followed the introduction of the NHS reforms. Each success and failure was spotlighted by the media, not least HSJ, and all are well documented here.
The book swaps locations and plots frequently, even irritatingly, on occasion. One moment in A&E, the next in a management meeting, then on to an autopsy, back into theatre and ending up in the PR department. It has a touch
too much of St Elsewhere, Casualty and ER to it - even down to charting the events leading up to a horrific motorcycle accident which created one of the 'stars' of the book. But all credit should be given to Davidson for capturing the essence of a large, acute teaching hospital. Credit should also go to St Thomas' for allowing its indiscretions, mistakes, disasters, conflicts, emotions, successes and humanity to be so openly recorded.
Bloodlines will be of most interest to NHS readers on three levels. First, it provides welcome confirmation that we are all going through similar experiences. Second, it is an excellent anecdotal history of recent turbulent times.
And last, there are the memories it highlights by omission. Guy's was Ken Clarke and Virginia Bottomley's flagship trust. Guy's chief executive Peter Griffiths was the admiral of the fleet. The Institute of Health Services Management's membership and influence were on a near vertical, upward trajectory. John Major was prime minister. 'Where are they now?' as HSJ would ask.
Corporate communications manager at King's College Hospital, London.