NHS volunteers risk their lives on Ebola front-line

NHS staff undergo training at a replica medical camp in North Yorkshire yesterday. Picture: PA
NHS staff undergo training at a replica medical camp in North Yorkshire yesterday. Picture: PA
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The first group of NHS volunteers being sent to Sierra Leone to help combat Ebola have undergone training at a specialist Ministry of Defence unit.

More than 50 volunteers have been put through the comprehensive nine-day training scheme which aims to fully prepare them for conditions in the field.

Taking the NHS employees through a replicated medical camp, members of the armed services train them in the different stages of assessment, suspected and confirmed cases of the disease.

With the temperature even raised to the heat of West Africa, it is expected many hundreds of medical volunteers will pass through the doors with around 1,000 people already having come forward.

Dr Roger Alcock, a consultant in emergency medicine at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert, near Falkirk, is leaving for Sierra Leone later this week.

He said: “There’s a huge number of people affected and it’s all numbers, but when you step back and look at the cases, it becomes people and names and it becomes much more real.

“It relates to your family and you feel the need to assist and support your colleagues and the community in West Africa.

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“They need help and I have the experience and training after this week to be able to work as part of a team within the international effort.

“We’ve had excellent training here from the British military and that, together with the additional experience we’ve had, means we’ll be able to deal with the situation that we will be faced with in West Africa.”

The army said it was aiming to provide the best training possible so there would be no surprises for the volunteers in the field.

Tony Redmond, director of UK-Med, who helps recruit people for responses like this, said: “The volunteers are going through their specialist Ebola training ready for their deployment out to Sierra Leone and to start working in the British-funded treatment centre. We’ve had over 1,000 people come forward from the NHS alone and from there we have to get the right skill-set and pick those whose experience best matches what we’re looking for.

“The training they get here is absolutely world-class; we’re very confident about that and we would only deploy people if we were confident that the standard of training is the best it can be.”

Volunteers at the Ministry of Defence’s Army Medical Services Training Centre, near York, were taken through infection-control procedures to mirror those in Freetown.

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They were trained in the correct use of protective equipment and were able to practise routine tasks, like taking blood, to get used to wearing the suit.

A lot of the work focused on removing the protective suits safely and UV scanners are in use to check for signs of contamination. They will also be given further training when they arrive in Sierra Leone.

UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was quick to thank the volunteers. He said: They embody the values at the heart of our health service, and their expertise and dedication is second to none.”

Scottish soldiers have already been deployed in Sierra Leone on a humanitarian mission to combat Ebola. Some 40 troops from the Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, have arrived in the West African country.

The soldiers are among 750 military personnel sent to West Africa along with the medical ship RFA Argus – a fully equipped hospital including critical care and high-dependency units – and three helicopters.

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