Bill Thomson – Consultant Physicist

Bill ThomsonDEDICATION and commitment can be measured in many ways, but one local NHS hero has defined a new scale of measurement in caring for his patients.

Consultant Physicist, Bill Thomson (65) has worked in the NHS for 43 years, the last 30 as Head of Physics and Nuclear Medicine for Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust. He is also both the Radiation and the Laser Protection Adviser for the Trust.

Nuclear medicine uses radiopharmaceuticals to accurately detect early forms of cancer and also measures the function of the heart, brain, kidneys and lungs. In addition to his ‘day’ job, Bill runs a national service supplying radioactive krypton gas generators to other nuclear medicine departments across England. For five nights a week, a small team of technologists work in a lab in Birmingham to produce radiopharmaceuticals used to accurately detect blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary embolus). He recalls: “There have been occasions in the past when it looked like the service would have to stop. One was when the old cyclotron we were using closed down. However I arranged for the service to continue with solution from the only other cyclotron in the country doing this, at the Hammersmith Hospital in London. I still remember helping out occasionally by driving down to London at 2am to pick up the solution to get back and load our generators by 6am.”

Bill is no stranger to awards as this year he received the Norman Veal medal from the British Nuclear Medicine Society, awarded for outstanding contributions to science and practice of nuclear medicine. He has contributed numerous articles to scientific publications and given over 150 presentations, and has had an idea for an improved measurement technique adopted nationally and sold in his name.

A driven man and a scientist at heart, he is passionate about improvements and new concepts for the clinical studies he is involved in. He explains: “I work with a fantastic team who simply want to do what is best for the patient, and are always coming up with ideas to improve things. We have a great record of involving all staff in research and development work and are often invited to present at conferences. It was great to see a technologist winning the best scientific paper at last year’s nuclear medicine conference.

In his spare time Bill enjoys mountaineering, skiing and photography. He usually visits the Alps once or twice a year to climb, although a catastrophic climbing accident four years ago has tamed his adventurous streak, although not diminished his love of climbing. He still enjoys indoor climbing two to three times a week and in quieter moments he also plays the classical guitar.

Bill’s own hero is the Irish polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. He explained: “I am inspired by the way he led his men to explore Antarctica, particularly in 1914 on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, where in the face of extreme conditions, he kept his head, completed a heroic sea crossing and came back to save his men. Wow, that’s some leadership and courage.”

Married with two children, his daughter Elen is finishing her Radiology training in Leeds, and son David is in IT in London.