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In the warzone

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‘It’s the calm I remember,’ says Nicki Greenwood as she recalls her time in Afghanistan. ‘The calm before it all happens. Then, when the first child comes into the emergency department, it’s about trying to keep a hold of that calm.’

It was around this time last year that Nicki, a Senior Sister at the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust, was waiting at Camp Bastion military base for a group of very young children injured in conflict. For the three months that Nicki lived and worked in the warzone, incidents like this were part of her daily life.

‘We treated civilians and military personnel who had been caught in the conflict. I have years of experience in intensive care, but this was totally different. Soldiers who had their limbs blown off would be apologising to their superiors as they felt they had let them down. Situations like that are tough to deal with, and heartbreaking to see.’

Accepting the challenge

Nicki volunteered to become a nurse in Afghanistan after Elaine Strachan-Hall, the Trust’s Director of Nursing and Clinical Leadership, emailed her about the NHS S2O initiative.

‘Nicki’s willingness to share her expertise and knowledge in a new setting with its own unique challenges is an inspiration to us all,’ says Elaine.

The trust already had strong links with supporting and assisting the Armed Forces and the idea behind NHS S2O - using the expertise of senior medical staff for military operations - was an opportunity Nicki felt she had to take.

‘There was obviously apprehension about working in a warzone, but this was a challenge I wanted to experience.

My friends and family reacted as you would expect - what?? - but they grew to understand that it was important to me.’

Lasting impact

The important work Nicki did in Afghanistan - both in working in intensive care and training junior nurses - earned her a medal in recognition of her services. It was presented to her by the Duchess of Cornwall in July last year.

The experience has left such an impact that Nicki is looking to follow a similar path in the future: ‘I learned so much about myself. I stepped outside my own little bubble and saw the world in a different way. It’s something I’ll never forget.’

Armed to assist

NHS Service to Operations (S2O) is an initiative that asks senior intensive therapy unit nurses to lend their skills to support military operations in Afghanistan.

It’s an opportunity to have a unique experience alongside our Armed Forces, and build on the leadership, team-building and motivational skills that can be translated
back into your employing organisation.

The idea behind the initiative supports the Government’s Service Personnel Command Paper, published in 2008, which outlines how the nation can demonstrate commitment to the Armed Forces, their families and veterans through cross-government support.

For details, email Lt. Col Andy Yates andrew.yates213@mod.uk, or call 01722 433 954 to find out more about NHS S2O.

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