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Nurses prepare for Afghanistan

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Clinical staff from Guy’s and St Thomas’ staff have been preparing for deployment to Afghanistan along with other army reservists in what is the largest group called up from a London hospital since the Korean War.

The medical staff are volunteers in the London’s medical territorial unit – 256 Field Hospital - and will provide clinical services for three months at Camp Bastion, the main British military base in Helmand Province.

Camp Bastion is now a world leading centre for trauma, providing emergency medicine, primary surgery and an intensive care unit amongst its many services.

The Trust team is made up of two senior nurses, three staff nurses and a senior radiographer. They are part of 90 reservists from the regiment’s squadrons based in Kennington, Kensington, Kingston and Mile End, and are taking over from Danish military reserves finishing their own tour.

The most senior member of the Guy’s and St Thomas’ team is Major Marie Richter, 44, who will be overall second in command of the British deployment. She’s been a member of the TA for 18 years and has previously mobilised to Bosnia in 2001 and Iraq in 2004. Her normal role is a practice development nurse in paediatrics.

“It’s going to be the busiest time of our lives with 16 hour days, seven days a week, and more trauma cases than you’d normally deal with in a lifetime,” said Major Richter. “Despite this everyone is looking forward to going, as this is what we have been training towards for the last year.

“Being in the TA is great fun but also has its responsibilities, and supporting the regular army in providing medical care to our troops is one of the reasons why most of us joined.

“My previous tours in Bosnia and Iraq enable me to anticipate what to expect, and having also been to Afghanistan in July on a recce, I am now concentrating on ensuring everyone else is ready. 

“Of course there is no alcohol as everyone is to be prepared to work at any time, but there is a good gym and a café to take a break in.  We have it much easier than the front line troops do, working in air conditioning and sleeping in a tent so there is very little moaning from the staff.  The conditions the front line troops live in are more austere, our respect goes to them and we just want to be able to provide the best medical support to them should they need it.

“Currently the Camp Bastion hospital is achieving the best mortality rates in the world – successfully treating injuries traditionally viewed as ‘unsaveable’. Exposure to that environment and experience can only be of benefit to the NHS and our patients when these individuals return.”

Ahead of deployment the reservists underwent rigorous training, which included military training, fitness, table-top exercises and both civilian and military clinical training. This culminated in a realistic hospital exercise at the Royal Army Medical Corps’ state of the art facility in North Yorkshire, involving amputee actors, special effects and make up.

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