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Doctors and Nurses at War
Television programme following the work of Doctors and Nurses at War from 203 Field Hospital Unit in Camp Bastion Field Hospital and Medical Treatment Facility MTF Helmand Territory Southern Afghanistan
Doctors and Nurses at War was a documentary broadcast on ITV from Tuesday 3 February 2009 at 8pm. Each of the three episode of Doctors and Nurses at War were one hour in length. It observed the work of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC) doctors and nurses as they cared for members of the British Army wounded or injured in the current 13 war zones and conflict zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. This included from the moment of injury in the battlefield, to evacuation from the frontline in special Chinook Air Ambulances, to emergency treatment in field hospitals such as Camp Bastion Field Hospital and Medical Treatment Facility MTF Helmand Territory Southern Afghanistan with its ER, two theatres and recovery ward.
What we do is quick thinking, fast acting and there isn’t room for passengers. Dr Gutherie.
This exciting television programme was sanctioned by the Ministry of Defence and included scenes of the medics and nurses treating patients under fire by the Taliban. Clips were shot using head cameras and mini cams to bring the harsh reality of war direct to the UK viewer and how the brave doctors and nurses cope whilst saving the lives of soldiers and Afghan civilians.
The TV programme included interviews with several army doctors and nurses which included several who normally work for the NHS as trauma surgeons, paramedics and accident and emergency nurses. These Territorial Army medics and QAs were from 203 Field Hospital Unit in Cardiff, Wales and the 16 Close Support Regiment. Their Commanding Officer was Colonel Phil Hubbard (OBE) who is a regular army officer and veteran of armed conflicts such as the Falklands War. Of his team and their various reasons for being active TA members Col Hubbard said:
I think it is the attraction of using their skills in an environment that is unusual to them and they want to challenge themselves.
The training of the TA and preparation for deployment was also broadcast on Doctors and Nurses at War. This took place at Strensall in North Yorkshire. This included specialist training for the treatment of landmine and suicide bomber victims and how to care for Afghan civilians injured by the Taliban. Lt Col Pete Davis describes the unique role of his team of paramedics, doctors and armed soldiers who secure his team's and casualties safety as they work from an air ambulance Chinook helicopter.
What it does essentially is take the emergency room to the patient. Our wounded patients or casualties in Afghanistan are 35 minutes flying time away from Camp Bastion. Those patients would die if it wasn’t for the medical team in the back of the helicopter.
The staff of 203 Field Hospital Unit had mixed feelings about their deployment to the war zone from their National Health Serice careers. Captain Sue James, a grandmother and former NHS children’s nurse who has now performed two tours of Afghanistan said before this deployment:
I think the worst part of going away is going to be leaving the family. My grandson is only two weeks old, so that’s going to be really difficult.
I have published a book which tells the story of The Grey Lady Ghost of the Cambridge Military Hospital which reveals her origins in the QAIMNS and where she meets a QA veteran of Afghanistan. She still walks her wards and tells her story by taking Scott Grey, a QARANC nurse, to the battlefields of World War One and beyond. This is the first in the series of Grey and Scarlet Novels by CG Buswell. Read the first chapter for free.
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The dilemmas of emergency care and thoughts towards long term outcomes were highlighted when medics had to make difficult decisions over treatments such as limb amputations and major burns. The psychological care of British soldiers in battle zones as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is identified and treated.
Doctors and Nurses at War was produced by Steadfast Television for ITV1 and shot over a month at Britain's field hospital in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. Medics and nurses featured in this documentary included Lieutenant David Hawkings (trauma nurse), Captain Simon Lawrence (radiographer), Lt Emma Jones (physiotherapist), Lance Corporal Tom Storey (Combat Medical Technician - CMT), Lt Col Pete Davis (Consultant), Lt Col Malcolm Loudon (A&E Consultant), Hugo Gutherie (surgeon), Major Justin Woolgar (Consultant Vascular Surgeon), Captain Claire MacIntyre (Nursing Sister), Lt Col Nigel Heal (Senior Nursing Officer) and John McMaster (senior surgeon).
Though the lighter side of army life is shown through the humour of the front line nurses and doctors their commitment is never in question. Lt David Hawkings, whose ironing skills are comically shown on screen when he was not working as a trauma nurse summed it up with:
I just feel, personally, I’ve got things that I can offer. I feel it’s something that we’re able to give back – particularly to our front line service personnel.
His best friend, Capt Simon Lawrence, an NHS radiographer and aspiring David Attenborough mimic says of his friend's semi clothed ironing skills and dancing:
Here we are in the accommodation of the soldiers. By observing them closely we can see them in their natural habitat!
In the first episode of Doctors and Nurses at War, which was titled Baptism of Fire, viewers witnessed the treatment of a civilian child called Raheema who was seriously injured in a suicide bomb attack. Five year old Raheema had shrapnel wounds to her stomach, lost her left hand and her right hand was seriously injured in the bombing. The treatment and care of the staff of 203 Field Hospital Unit saved her life and skin grafts saved her right hand.
With limited space in the ward of Camp Bastion Field Hospital patient's must be discharged and Sister James has to say goodbye to baby Basha who she has been caring for:
To watch them walking up there, out of the camp, was devastating. Because you’ve nursed them, you’ve given them all the treatment, you’ve given them all the love and care and attention that you possibly can and now it feels like you’re abandoning them.
Though sometimes the rules are bent so that civilian patients can stay longer at camp Bastion for expert care. The Emergency Room's bed state is controlled by Lt Col Nigel Heal and the Battlefield ER doctors had to convince him to allow Raheema to stay for her skin grafts.
The dangers to the civilian nurses and doctors of this TA unit was highlighted when soon after their arrival at Camp Bastion an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) was set off 300 yards away from the hospital and outside the camp perimeter. The explosion shook the hospital and was felt by the staff. This IED was a suicide car bomb near the British Army check point. A soldier was injured with burnt hands.
More danger awaited the medics and nurses who tend the wounded aboard air ambulances. These Chinook helicopters cannot have a red cross emblem displayed because the Taliban do not adhere to any rules of war such as the Geneva Convention and would use the red cross emblem as a target. During Doctors and Nurses at War on ITV the crew had to treat and evacuate 8 wounded civilians including children and were under fire by the Taliban machine guns as they returned to Camp Bastion.
The trauma and emotion of caring for civilians in the front line was highlighted when the team had their first child death and this continued when Royal Marine casualties were brought into the hospital.
Combat Medical Technician Class 1 L/Cpl Storey patrols the streets of Musa Qala which is a small town north of Camp Bastian and is considered to be one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan. His duties include first aid on the battlefield with the Paras. He explains the harsh reality of patrolling this war zone:
Even when someone comes up the street with a motorbike or a push bike, or someone comes up with a wheelbarrow, anything that you think might have explosives in it, you’re constantly on edge. You’re scared all the time", says Storey, "And anyone who says they’re not scared, in my own personal opinion, is lying.
The second part of Doctors and Nurses At War on ITV1 was broadcast on Tuesday 10 February 2009 from 8pm until 9pm. It was entitled Life Versus Limb. Viewers saw Paratrooper medic Captain and Doctor David Cooper of the 16 Close Support Regiment who was treating an Afghan policeman who had shot himself in the leg with his AK47 rifle. His treatment was hampered because the policeman was high having been suspected of taking heroin.
Meanwhile at the Camp Bastion Field Hospital Lieutenant David Hawkings and Captain Simon Lawrence were training for their fitness test. If they had passed this annual run, sit ups and press ups test then the NHS staff would have been entitled to a £1500 tax free bonus from the TA.
Prior to leaving for Helmand Province in Afghanistan the doctors and nurses trained in the special building the Killing House where during this realistic training exercise they encountered real life amputees who were made up with realistic prosthetics of trauma wounds. This gave important training for the many limb injuries they would treat in Afghanistan. Viewers saw scenes of the medics and nurses treating Royal Marines who had been the victims of a land mine that exploded beneath their armoured troop carrier. The air ambulance was deployed in to the enemy territory where they came under fire before collecting the casualties and one dead Marine. Due to the dangers of coming under fire from the Taliban the medics performed a scoop and run and treated the wounded whilst in air. They were able to assess the Marines' injuries and wounds and give life saving treatment such as IV fluids. The multiple injuries of one Royal Marine resulted in bilateral leg amputations beneath the knee due to his catastrophic lower limb injuries. His comrade had severe bone injuries to three limbs which would necessitate many months of operations which would take place at Camp Bastion and back home in RCDM Birmingham. Doctors and Nurses at War was able to interview the amputee Royal Marine at the tri-services rehabilitation centre Headley Court as he awaited his artificial limbs.
Part two of Doctors and Nurses At War on ITV ended with a clip of part three which will show the treatment of a Taliban casualty.
Episode three of Doctors and Nurses At war was shown on ITV on the 17 February 2009 and entitled The Front Line. It highlighted the treatment and evacuation of front line casualties which included the care of amputee Afghan civilians from a suicide bombing. The specialist treatment of Taliban insurgents was broadcast which included having the blindfold, search and treat a Taliban insurgent under armed guard for the safety of the doctors and nurses.
Read more about Camp Bastion Field Hospital and Medical Treatment Facility MTF Helmand Territory Southern Afghanistan.
If you would like to contribute any info, photographs or share your memories of Doctors and Nurses at War then please contact me.
Qaranc.co.uk would like to thank itv.com for the photographs and assistance in completing this page about Doctors and Nurses at War.
Forces War Records
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Official QARANC webpage.
QA Association website.
In The Company of Nurses Book.
The Grey Lady Ghost of the Cambridge Military Hospital Novel - a Book by CG Buswell
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