Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Remembering Professor G. Ayliffe

On Wednesday the 24th May, my day starts as usual; after eating my cereal, l open my emails and scroll down to find one from my friend of 28 years, Sue M saying I thought I would send this before you see it on twitter...its 11.30pm too late to ring you - she knows I am always in bed by 9pm!

The subject heading reads Remembering Professor Ayliffe.

I read the Healthcare Infection Society email with tears in my eyes then sit back in my chair and remember...

I started my nursing career in 1980 in orthopaedics and I loved it from my first day on the wards. In 1989 I changed direction when I joined Professor Ayliffe's team as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Infection Control.

Initially I had no idea how lucky I was to secure a job working within this team in the Birmingham, Hospital Infection Research Laboratory (HIRL). But as I studied the subject I saw the names of people I was spending my days with crop up in research papers and books. I was immersed in an environment of learning and my education was coming from the best; the founders of much of the theory Becky, Elaine and then Kathy and I taught others in the classroom and in practice.

Ayliffe et al 1978

In the late 1970s Professor Ayliffe and his team were the inspiration behind the  evidence based six step hand washing technique that can be seen adorning the walls of restaurants, cafes and healthcare premises across the world. In doing this and other significant practical research; such as producing early evidence of the value of wearing plastic aprons over uniforms; Prof and his team made an outstanding contribution to reducing the risk arising from the transmission of infections, thereby saving millions of lives.

Prof Ayliffe was an advocate of nurses specialising in infection control and in 1970 was the co-founder of the Association for Infection Control Nurses (ICNA). It was a privilege to be able to attend my first conference in Guernsey, soon after I joined the team. I met Sue M and we listened in awe as Prof Ayliffe, John Babb, Jean Davies and many of my colleagues took their turn to stand on the stage and share their wisdom.

In 1990 I commenced the Foundation Course in Infection Control run by Marian Reed. I  listened as Prof's soft spoken voice held the attention of a room full of nurses as he taught the practical application of Microbiology. He then gave me quiet reassuring direction as I embarked on my first piece of research, my course assignment looking at the prevalence of infection in long stay elderly care wards. I passed and he then guided me as I prepared it for publication. He grinned as I ran in to his office waving a copy of the Infection Control Supplement in the Nursing Times containing my first published paper!

I tried not to smile at Prof Ayliffes serious face when Becky and I seized an April fools opportunity which coincided with our team meeting day. We described the symptoms of a pyretic man admitted to an open ward with sores on his hands, who was working on a sheep carefully lead him and the other microbiologists to a diagnosis of anthrax. We then shared in their quiet laughter as we declared our hand before they left the meeting in search of this imaginary patient!

In 1993 Prof, Kathy and Becky supported my successful application for a Birmingham Hospital Fund, Travel Scholarship to travel across the USA studying the infection risks associated with parenteral nutrition (intravenous feeding).

This award included a book of my choice and without hesitation I asked for Control of Hospital Infection, This was our day to day infection control handbook, which we referred to constantly. After being awarded the book I proudly asked Prof Ayliffe and then the other authors, to sign my book. As a bibliophile, although retired from use, it still sits proudly on my bookshelves at home.
Prof Ayliffe continued his visionary approach when he encouraged and supported an annual Lab day out. Kathy organised the minibus and off we would go, picnic stored in the back, singing and chattering all they way there and back. The most memorable for me was a visit to Chatsworth House where we picnicked in the grounds before visiting the grand old house. Nowadays this kind of outing is called 'Team Building'!

I flew the nest of Prof Ayliffe and the HIRL Team six years later to take up a lead nurse post still in infection control in a nearby hospital but we remained in constant touch. From this team I realised how important it is to share research, experience and knowledge. I had witnessed with admiration their constant open and giving approach to others in the world of infection prevention and control. From Prof and his team I learnt that we were one family united in our aspirations to prevent and control infection across the globe.

Left is Prof Ayliffe, I am behind in blue 
and Marian Reed is in white

In a subsequent role of chair of the West Midlands Infection Control Nurses Association which I held for many years, I attended quite a number of happy events with Prof. We shared in the smiles of budding infection control nurses when awarding the annual Marian Reed prize.

In 2007 when I was working in Wales as a national Nurse Consultant, I was delighted to be approached by Tina Bradley, the current Director of the Research Laboratory, to ask if I would co-write a chapter for the new edition of The Control of Hospital Infection Book with my infection control colleague and friend Sue Millward. The new edition was to be titled Ayliffe's Control of Healthcare-Associated Infection. By this time Prof had retired from day to day work but throughout his retirement he continued to give of himself and his skills on a regular basis.

I completed my chapter just before a brain tumour changed my life forever. I received a copy of the book a few months later in 2009 and it rests on the same shelf as my signed copy of the previous edition.

But Prof didn't forget me as I didn't forget him, we have shared Christmas cards and met up at a conference when I attempted to return to work in 2009 and again after my retirement in 2011. But Prof and Mrs Ayliffe will never know how much I valued a visit from them when they were in Bristol as I recovered from my brain tumour surgery at home.

Tears fill my eyes again as I remember Janet and Prof arriving, sitting in the sun, sharing a cup of tea, talking about infection control. About life. I asked Prof to sign my new book as we chatted about mutual friends, our love of birds and birdwatching.

I like to think that Professor Ayliffe is now resting in a great laboratory, amongst mutual colleagues and friends; John Babb, Johns wife Janet; Professor Lowbury, Professor Emmerson, Kathy Mitchell and Marian Reed to name but a few.

Rest in Peace Professor Ayliffe x