Specialist paediatric resuscitation equipment delivered to Stirling Royal Infirmary less than a month ago was crucial in saving the lives of those injured in the carnage at Dunblane, it emerged yesterday.
The vital role played by the equipment and the dedicated work of hospital staff was revealed in the first accounts of how medical teams coped with the scene at the gymnasium and later in hospital emergency wards.
Dr Brenda Fleming, the infirmary's accident and emergency consultant, said: "We had just bought the new equipment and yesterday we contacted the [makers] and told them how well it worked. It made a big difference because it was designed to be used on children of varying ages."
Dr Fleming was one of the first hospital doctors to arrive at the gym. Describing how the shot children lay in the room covered in blood, Dr Fleming said: "If someone had come in and said `Okay, stop filming, this is a Hollywood set', I would have believed them."
The professionalism, calm and dedication of the medical staff were thanked by the Prime Minister and the Labour leader Tony Blair who visited the hospital yesterday. Central to all the stories of heroism they heard was the simple technique that enabled staff to put their emotions to one side.
The medical team's first job at the school was to check for signs of life. Those still alive were given priority. Dr Fleming praised the teachers "They were superb. Even though they were distraught themselves they were comforting the children."
Although many of the accident and emergency teams were thoroughly trained a consultant said: "Nothing prepares you for this."
A senior staff nurse, Wilma Duggan, recalled the first emergency telephone call to the hospital: it said there had been a shooting. The second call said at least 12 were feared dead. Many thought it was a hoax call; there was disbelief.
A nurse at the school said: "It was so awful. They were all so small, so pale, so wee. Nothing could prepare me for that." She added "Everyone coped well. A lot of nurses here have extra trauma training. We just have to cope - these people are depending on you."
Dr Fleming said that when she arrived at the school she found people crying in the corridors and hugging each other. "We were worried about whether our emergency plans were adequate enough. You think there might be a train derailment and that may occur once in your life. But not a group of children."
The specialist equipment was taken to the school by the hospital team. Intravenous fluids were given; oxygen was prepared; bandages were put on to stop bleeding. When the injured were taken out doctors went back again to the gymnasium to check and re-check that no one was still alive.
Dr Jack Beattie, a paediatric consultant. said "We will never forget this. People in the hospital were doing jobs they don't normally do, consultants were pushing hospital trolleys. We will never forget - we are proud that we handled this but I hope it will never happen again."