The Duchess of Cornwall hosts reception for Royal Navy Medics at Clarence House

A team of Royal Navy Medical personnel have been recognised by their Commodore-in-Chief Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall at a reception at Clarence House, for their hard work in challenging conditions supporting a UN mission in South Sudan.

The highly skilled team, of 79 medical and support staff, returned earlier this year having spent six months providing hospital care and medical support to thousands of UK and multinational personnel deployed as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

Having proved they can provide the same level of care they do at sea, but in a land-locked extreme location, the team were invited to  Clarence House by special invitation of their Commodore-in-Chief, The Duchess of Cornwall.

Geographically remote, the hospital is based in Bentiu, 1,000km from the capital Juba – a three-and-a-half hour journey by helicopter.

The team left the UK with a vision of delivering agile, flexible and responsive care and they certainly rose to the challenge and proved they could do that – delivering the same standard of care they would at sea but in a land-locked, extreme location.

Commodore Inga Kennedy

Conditions were challenging - water was scarce, the environment hot and dusty and the risk of infection and disease was high.

The Royal Navy took command of the Army-built tented Field Hospital in South Sudan in January this year, running the hospital for almost seven months until they handed over to the RAF to manage and mentor the Vietnamese who have now taken over.

The predominantly Navy team was also joined in the hospital by specialists from the Army and RAF, as part of a tri-service Joint Medical Group – all wearing the sky blue beret of the United Nations.

This UK medical deployment was unprecedented. It is the first time that a UN hospital has had unbroken clinical cover. The UN have formally recognised this transition as best practice, with other troop contributing countries being encouraged to follow suit.

Commodore Inga Kennedy, Head of the Royal Navy Medical Service is proud of what her team achieved, she said: “The team left the UK with a vision of delivering agile, flexible and responsive care and they certainly rose to the challenge and proved they could do that – delivering the same standard of care they would at sea but in a land-locked, extreme location.

As Head of the Royal Navy Medical Service, it is a great honour to have been invited to Clarence House, where our Commodore-in-Chief has hosted this prestigious event celebrating the success of our personnel. I am extremely proud of what has been achieved by the team who deployed as part of the UN Mission in South Sudan.”

The team included doctors, nurses, dentists, allied health professionals (comprising medical assistants, paramedics, radiographers, technicians) and an air medical evacuation team.

Sub Lieutenant Emily Harding was a nurse in the Emergency Department at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth before joining the team in South Sudan for three and a half months. She said: “I’m very proud to have completed my first operational tour within three years of joining the Navy as a Nursing Officer and it’s such an honour for the team to be recognised by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall.

I loved working in a small team in an operational environment and enjoyed the variety of the illnesses and injuries we cared for whilst away - you don’t get very many snake bites in the NHS!

Deploying to South Sudan in support of UNMISS was a hugely rewarding experience - when I joined the Navy I didn’t think my first tour would be with the UN, on land, in the middle of central Africa.”

Hospital facilities at Bentiu include an emergency department, intensive care, an operating theatre, labs, x-ray and head CT scanner, wards and pharmacy as well as a GP surgery, dentist, stores and environmental health department.

Petty Officer Medical Technician (Operating Department Practitioner) Sam Davies is currently working in the theatres department at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, he spent six months in South Sudan as part of the Field Surgical Team. Having started his service life with the Army he transferred to the Royal Navy in 2015 for the training and deployment opportunities it offered his role. He said: “I enjoyed the challenge and responsibility of working with the UN on a humanitarian mission. My last operational tour was as a Combat Medical Technician in the Army in Afghanistan and this tour with the Navy was very different to that – the biggest threat was illness not gunfire or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

It’s an honour to be invited to such a prestigious place by Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall to share in the congratulations with others who deployed to South Sudan.”

Chief Petty Officer Naval Nurse Mark Bailey is currently based at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth. He worked as a Watch Leader for four months in South Sudan, responsible for a team of nurses providing care on the ward to UK and multinational UN personnel. This was his fifth operational tour having previously served in Iraq, Afghanistan and supporting UK efforts to tackle the Ebola outbreak.

“Deploying on Op Trenton was an amazing experience and gave me the opportunity to further enhance my skills. I enjoyed working in the multinational environment and learning from the different nations deployed with the UN.

Nursing patients from different contributing countries required us to adapt to different cultural needs and find innovative ways to communicate when there was a language barrier.

Whilst on deployment, things can be tough, however the ethos of the Navy is about pulling together. The staff I worked with on the ward formed a strong team and were there for each other.”