Lance Corporal Andrew Wilson, 21, from Blackpool working with the Medical Emergency Reaction Team at Camp Bastion, Helmand, southern Afghanistan.
[Picture: Cpl Alex Scott RAF]
The MERTs are based at the field hospital in Camp Bastion. They are a rapid response team consisting of a protection element, or Quick Reaction Force (QRF), of eight soldiers operating alongside the medical team of a consultant anaesthetist, an accident and emergency specialist and two medics.
On a call-out, the team will embark onto a fully medically equipped Chinook helicopter. Once the Chinook lands, the QRF soldiers secure the area for the recovery of the injured. The medical team handle the patients onto the aircraft and start to assess and treat. The patients are then transported back to the hospital at Camp Bastion.
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As he prepares for a typical emergency mission Lieutenant Colonel Ian Nesbitt Royal Army Medical Corps, a consultant anaesthetist, describes the scenario his team will face:
"We received a call to say an ISAF soldier has been found unconscious at a Forward Operating Base (FOB). It is not quite clear what the full story is as yet, but we have been tasked to get to him because he is unconscious and there are a whole list of ramifications in being deeply unconscious. So we are going out there to pick him up and assess the situation. We will initially treat him on the aircraft on the way back to Camp Bastion and then hand over to the hospital."
The Chinook quickly fills with the medical personnel and their protection team of infantry soldiers. En route the team busy themselves in the preparation of intravenous drips and other medical instruments. Once the Chinook lands, the QRF are immediately fanning out into an all-round defensive position ready to engage any potential threat. Apache aircraft circle above observing for any possible danger to the MERT.
The patient is delivered on a stretcher being transported by a quad bike and trailer; he is lifted and put onto the aircraft. The assessment and treatment begins immediately. Once the QRF are back on board the Chinook is away.
On arrival at Camp Bastion, the ambulance crew quickly take charge of the stretcher, the patient is in the back, and it speeds the 200 yards to the emergency department. Almost immediately, there is another call and the team prepares to deploy once more. The aircraft rotors are still turning and the team board and are in the air again.
"It is really quite difficult to work within the aircraft as it gets dark," Lt Col Nesbitt explains as he heads to the next emergency. "For the aircrew it is also very difficult to land a Chinook at night, there are no visual references, at present we in the back have no idea where we are or at what height we are at.
"There is a dust storm whirling inside the aircraft now, the QRF are running off the back into the dust, and everybody is getting into position and awaiting the casualties."
Five casualties quickly appear from the dust cloud, three walking wounded and two on stretchers. The back of the Chinook becomes a hive of co-ordinated activity interspersed with rapid efficient teamwork, all of this above the dust and noise of the rotors. The team constantly check and re-check the patients’ conditions and update each other. Within minutes the aircraft is back at Camp Bastion. Again an ambulance is waiting to transport all of the patients the short distance to the emergency department.
Lieutenant Colonel Ian Nesbitt is a Territorial Army Officer, whose usual job is as a Consultant Anaesthetist in the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne:"
“The work here is very challenging, the availability of resupply is restricted, and the equipment we use has to be robust and is therefore more basic," he says. "The patient mix is completely different. I have seen more trauma here in a few weeks here than I would see in 15 years in the UK. That is actually very fulfilling and professionally very challenging and certainly a world away from what I do in the UK.
"Young 18 to 25 year-old soldiers are living in very difficult and demanding conditions and performing a demanding and dangerous job. Some of them are getting hurt and some of them are getting killed and it is important that they get good medical back up and I am honoured to be out here and part of a team such as the MERT."