The contribution of skilled nursing staff should feature more prominently in safety and emergency planning for major events, a nurse who was one of the first on the scene after the Shoreham air crash has told Nursing Times.
Tony Kemp, a highly experienced pre-hospital care nurse, witnessed the immediate aftermath of the 1950s Hawker Hunter jet crashing onto the A27 dual carriageway while coming out of a loop during an air display on 22 August, as we reported last week.
“We cannot allow ourselves to be closeted. Nursing is a phenomenal profession with a hugely important role”
He was providing senior clinical cover for the Red Cross at the Shoreham air show and, when the major incident was called, went on to assist as a volunteer immediate care practitioner under the South East Coast Immediate Medical Care Scheme.
Mr Kemp was almost immediately deployed to the scene and – together with paramedics and others – gave lifesaving care to the pilot within metres of the burning wreckage of the vintage jet.
He spent a further four hours treating shocked and injured bystanders and caring for others in the crowd who had fallen ill.
He has been hailed a hero for his efforts, but told Nursing Times he was “really embarrassed” by the attention he had received in the wake of the tragedy.
However, Mr Kemp said had agreed to do some media interviews because he felt it helped promote the nursing profession and change outdated perceptions of the role.
“There have been big campaigns about being proud to be a nurse,” he said. “If nothing else then maybe this is an opportunity to put a flag above the parapet.
“This is not about me the nurse but the profession, as there are many other nurses in other areas doing equally amazing jobs that don’t get the credit and are not properly understood,” he told Nursing Times.
“I turned around and saw this huge ball of fire, and this massive mushroom cloud”
Mr Kemp, who is vice-chair of the British Association for Immediate Care (BASICS), claimed this was true when it came to regulations and planning for large-scale public events, like air shows.
“In the old days, we were the bedpan and apron brigade,” he said. “Perceptions have changed, but when you look at regulations around major events they talk about doctors, talk about paramedics but the nurse isn’t there.
“We have got to grow up and recognise that in this day and age our role is so much greater,” he added.
“The skillsets, the knowledge and the levels we’re practising at – the fact we are prescribers and have got consultancy status – does mean we cannot allow ourselves to be closeted. Nursing is a phenomenal profession with a hugely important role,” he said.
Mr Kemp, who has previously attended other “horrific” scenes including several major road accidents, said his professional instincts took over as soon as the crash happened. When he heard the plane go down he was looking after an elderly woman suspected of having a stroke.
“I had assessed her and was handing her over to the Red Cross ambulance to take her to hospital, when there was this ‘karump’ behind me,” he said.
“I turned around and saw this huge ball of fire, and this massive mushroom cloud that so many people have seen in photographs,” he said. “A ‘code red’ was put over the radio system but I was already moving.”
“We have got to grow up and recognise that in this day and age our role is so much greater”
He said healthcare colleagues – including two off-duty GPs who stepped in to assist – had been a huge source of support during and after the incident.
“A lot of people ask whether I was affected by it, but when you are in the middle of it your focus is on dealing with the people that are there,” he said.
“That night and you’re home and you get flashbacks and are not sleeping particularly well and the next morning a bit shaky and aching – that’s just the adrenaline release.
“Then it is about quietly coming back to work and getting on with the job and life,” he said. “It is difficult because you are intimately involved with something that’s very much at the forefront of so much of the media.”
Mr Kemp said he had witnessed a small number of bystanders roaming the site in the initial aftermath of the crash filming with their mobile phones, and had been disturbed by some of the “sensationalist” media coverage of the crash.
Meanwhile, he said the nature of his job meant it was difficult to keep track of patients he had treated at the scene. But he added: “With the pilot, hopefully I am going to read in a few weeks’ time that he has gone home.”
Andrew Hill, 51, the aircraft’s pilot is being treated at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, where he is in a critical but stable condition.