More than 150 Royal Naval personnel are taking part in a major medical exercise in the Channel off Devon. They’re on board the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Argus which doubles as a floating hospital.
Most of the doctors, nurses, and ancilliary staff involved have already served at the hospital at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. They’re running a similar front-line hospital on the ship, receiving casualties, stabilising them and getting them back home for further medical care as soon as possible. But in this case the injuries are only simulated.
– Surgeon Commodore Andrew Hughes, Director of the Royal Naval Medical Service
We're trying to run a similar set up to Afghanistan, except it's inside a ship. It's moving around, there's a lot of additional complications. It's hard to get the casualties on to the ship, equally it may be difficult to transfer them off. We may have to hold them for more. It's difficult to get resupply
There is a fully-equipped 100 bed-hospital facility aboard the ship, including a four-bay operating theatre. It has 10 beds in its intensive care unit, and a further 20 in a high dependency unit. It has a full range of support services, including a CT scanner, pathology, pharmacy, physiotherapy, and psychiatry.
– Commander Neil Wagstaff, Commanding Officer of the medical unit within the ship
We are aiming to offer the highest level of care to the deployed service personnel. The principal objective of Exercise Medical Endeavour 12 is to ensure that the casualty receiving facility can deliver first-rate healthcare to those deployed on future operations
Virtually all armed forces medics work in civilian hospitals when they’re not deployed on active service. The 150 aboard Argus are drawn from hospitals across the South West. Chief Petty Officer Nicola Leftley, works at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth when not deployed:
– Nicola Leftley, Chief Petty Officer
A lot of us have already been out to Afghanistan and worked at Camp Bastion so we've been used to seeing complex trauma injuries really. It could be slightly different because it could be tropical diseases and things coming into us this time but a lot of us have been well trained to receive trauma injuries
– Rebecca McAllister, Leading Naval Nurse
I've got memories that I'll take with me for the rest of my life from doing that, and it's something I joined the forces to do, so I was happy to be able to go out and do my job in Afghanistan and to be able to do it back at home as well
All the clinical staff are also fully trained naval personnel so they’re expected to deal with the fires and floods they may encounter in a war zone. They’ve been tested on those skills regularly as the ship comes under simulated attack. But the patient always come first.
– David Lunn, Surgeon Captain
One of the difficulties is sometimes trying to slow down the clinical urge of the medical teams themselves because they will ignore their own safety sometimes in favour of their patients' care
Even when the enemy leaves them alone, the elements are not always friendly. Watch the full report by John Andrews: