Medics join battle to save lives on the frontline
Today a team of volunteer medical experts flew to Afghanistan. Tomorrow they begin saving the lives of soldiers wounded on Helmand’s frontline. In a series of three articles, defence reporter Rebecca Ricks, right, joins them on a final training exercise prior to their departure.
IT'S not very often I'm lost for words. But standing in a mirror image of the main hospital facility in Afghanistan's Camp Bastion, I am simply silent – in total awe.
In front of me an army of volunteers rehearse the vital skills dozens of British soldiers will rely on to save their lives over the next few months.
Doctors, nurses, surgeons and anaesthetists are just some of the experts that make up the 250-strong contingent deployed with 243 Wessex Field Hospital to Afghanistan yesterday.
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Like many British soldiers, these men and women will leave their homes and families, missing Christmas and birthdays. But this team sacrifice all that for one common purpose – to save lives.
They have spent the last few weeks at the facility in York honing their technique alongside their American counterparts ahead of the impending deployment.
During their final hours of training, I spent the day watching them perform some of the advanced medical techniques that have saved countless British service personnel, children and victims of IEDs or gun- shot wounds.
Lt Col Heather Saunders, second-in-command of the unit, guides me through the "A&E" department, operating theatres, wards and intensive care units.
"Here we will mimic what we will produce in the hospital," she explains.
"Over these last two days we have been pushing out what we expect to see in Bastion; this facility brings it to life so much.
"We will see anything from diseases to amputation and non-battle injuries. One of the biggest things that degrades the force is diarrhoea and vomiting but we will also deal with road traffic accidents and sports injuries."
In a matter of days they will be taking in casualties for real, no longer treating actors or mannequins but men and women who could be suffering from severe trauma.
The unit's care doesn't only extend to coalition forces. Local nationals, Afghan National Forces and even the enemy are entitled to the first class treatment at the facility. "Everybody gets the same treatment it doesn't matter who they are," the Lt Col, who also works as regional nurse advisor, explained.
"It's amazing, it's incredibly clean and incredibly slick. It is quite a privilege to actually be allowed to work out there."
The majority of the unit deploy over the next three days for a three-month tour taking control of Camp Bastion's Role 3 hospital as part of the UK Joint Forces Medical team.
The Role 3 facility takes the most seriously injured and wounded.
Sergeant Debbie Evans from Stoke will be one of the nurses making up the team.
She will not just be leaving her partner and daughter behind but her two grandchildren as well. The 48-year-old is in her 27th year supporting the TA and works in Derriford Hospital as a Bank Nurse.
Now embarking on her third tour of duty, Sgt Evans said she has seen change through the operations.
"It's very different now, before the mobilisation papers landed on your desk two weeks before you were off.
"The TA becomes a big family especially after being here for so long.
I'm not doing any more tours after this; I'll be 50 and you do have to get on with your own life."
Her granddaughter was just five when the Sergeant first deployed and didn't have a full understanding of where her grandma was.
"She's ten now and she's much more aware of what's going on especially when Bastion was infiltrated. It doesn't concern me but it does my family; I said we are safe because we will be in the middle of the base."
Speaking as one of the simulations drew to a close, the mother-of-one said helping the soldiers was something that was close to her heart.
"I want to go out there and be able to help our troops. I'm looking forward to working with the Americans – they seem very up for it. Most people here haven't deployed before.
"It's a British-led hospital so they will find it more difficult at first because of all our protocols, they have different ways of doing things.
"It's fantastic this facility, absolutely fantastic. I've been doing the Apheresis training here and taking the platelets – it's for a specific reason to help blood clot. For instance if there was a trauma situation and we haven't got enough blood products we would be able to do Apheresis to get the platelets."
The team will arrive in the war-torn country over the next few days before entering a transition phase where they will have the chance to adjust to the surroundings.
TOMORROW: read the heartfelt message from a Derriford nurse working to save wounded soldiers in Helmand's hospital.