7 November 2002

The Concorde healing chamber

Photo/media opportunity 4pm Thursday 7 November, Department of Medicine, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee (or by arrangement with Press Officer).

After years of investigating and persuading colleagues that the most simple treatment is often the most effective, Dr Philip James at the University of Dundee has realised his dream of creating a Hyperbaric Medicine Unit in Ninewells Hospital to treat patients with high concentrations of the most natural healer - oxygen.

The conditions which can be treated range from acute carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation to problem wounds. Dr James, who has looked after deep sea divers offshore for the last thirty years, discovered the power of oxygen in treating divers who live in high pressure chambers, where he was able to give much higher levels of oxygen than are possible in a hospital. He began to research an unconventional medical treatment that was reported in the Lancet as long ago as 1887.

Philip James: "Every time you go up in an aeroplane you are sitting in a hyperbaric chamber. Hyperbaric is simply a term describing an increase in ambient pressure. In an aeroplane the pressure has to increase to compensate for the reduced pressure at altitude so our bodies can breathe enough oxygen. If a Concorde was decommissioned tomorrow it could easily be used as a treatment centre as it can be pressurised on the ground and is also equipped with an oxygen breathing system.

Doctors know that wounds heal with exposure to oxygen. A cut on your knee will heal far more rapidly if the air is allowed to it. If the oxygen in air heals so well, what happens when the dose is increased?

Patients in the Oral Maxillofacial Surgery Unit at the University of Dundee's Dental School have benefited from increased oxygen treatment. Graham Ogden, Professor of Oral Surgery has referred patients with delayed healing following conditions such as facial injuries and cancer surgery. Professor Ogden explains: "People who have had radiotherapy on cancers in the head and neck region benefit from the oxygen treatment particularly when healing has been delayed, for example when infection has arisen. Where there is a limited blood supply and healing is slow, the oxygen helps speed up the healing process. The healing process is often slower for patients who smoke a lot or have certain medical conditions such as diabetes. This treatment can enhance their recovery.

We have been using this treatment on oral surgery patients for a year now and the results have been very encouraging. The down side for the patient is that it requires daily visits to the hospital, typically for 20 consecutive days and sometimes longer.

We are however, the envy of every other Maxillofacial department in Scotland having ready access to this effective and successful treatment."

Dr James explains: "To be in a hyperbaric chamber is to be in the safest place in a hospital as breathing such a high concentration of oxygen a patient cannot suffer a stroke or heart attack. The patient simply lies or sits in the air container and can sleep, read or watch TV while the most healing and natural gas available is rapidly working on their wounds."

The new unit at Ninewells contains 2 hyperbaric units which look somewhat like space capsules. One was designed and built in Dundee. The latest chamber was funded by a 75,000 donation from an English Jehovah's Witnesses group. They refuse blood transfusions and have found the hyperbaric method an effective alternative.

This unit is the only hospital based unit in Scotland and will treat patients from Tayside and other regions.

Philip James explains: "It is only recently that doctors have become aware of hyperbaric treatment in general medical practice because the emphasis has been on drug based solutions. In fact, giving oxygen has often been referred to as alternative medicine, largely because the importance of barometric pressure and the background science to using oxygen in this way has not been taught in our medical schools. However, oxygen treatment is now an integral part of the Dundee curriculum. I'm glad that the tide is turning in favour of oxygen because it is the safest, most effective and most cost effective treatment available to the NHS and has no side effects.

It is appropriate that we are taking the initiative on hyperbaric medicine here in Tayside as it was John Scott Haldane, of the Haldane family who are the lairds of Gleneagles, who first explained the reason for the administration of oxygen as a treatment in the British Medical Journal in 1917. He devised the first apparatus to administer 100% oxygen and took it to the front during WW1 to treat the soldiers who had been gassed.

Philip James became involved with offshore diving and hyperbaric medicine when he was appointed lecturer in industrial health at the University of Dundee in March 1972.

Contact Dr Philip James 01382 660111 ext 32080

By Jenny Marra, Press Officer 01382 344910 j.m.marra@dundee.ac.uk