Royal Navy medics treat thousands in the Americas on unique mercy mission

A team of Royal Navy medics have joined an American humanitarian mission to South America, in the wake of the Venezuela migrant crisis, providing health care to those most in need.

Three medics – Lieutenant Commander Mark Beswick, Chief Petty Officer (Naval Nurse) Stephen Brazier and Medical Assistant Chelsea Smith – are working side-by-side with the hundreds of American personnel embarked on the huge hospital ship USNS Comfort throughout Enduring Promise 18.

It’s the second time this year, British military medics have embedded within an American Hospital Ship; an RN team joined USNS Mercy in the summer as part of her Pacific Partnership goodwill tour of the Asia-Pacific region, offering basic medical assistance to remote island communities.

The goals of Enduring Promise are similar – to offer medical aid to stretched communities, in this case in Central and South America, where hospitals and doctors’ surgeries are struggling to cope with high numbers of patients, due in part to large numbers of migrants crossing their borders.

The deployment so far has been incredibly rewarding where we are witnessing first-hand the incredible differences we are making to people’s lives as well as relieving pressure on local health services

Lt Cdr Beswick

2018 marks the sixth incarnation of the Americas relief mission by the giant hospital ship which has offered some form of healthcare to nearly 400,000 people in the Americas on previous deployments.

For Enduring Promise 18, more than 200 military doctors, nurses and technicians have embarked from a plethora of nations including Honduras, Portugal, Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile and Canada. As well as the military contingent a number of medical and dental professional volunteers from non-governmental organisations have also participated.

Comfort is as big as HMS Queen Elizabeth, features 50 emergency department beds, a dozen operating theatres, as well as an 80-bed intensive care unit. Overall she has 1,000 beds – as many as Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, while the ‘outreach teams’ sent ashore to hold community clinics at each port of call during the deployment can cope with up to 750 patients daily.

The RN team joined the ship in Panama and transited through the Panama Canal on-route to their first mission stop in Turbo, Columbia.

Lt Cdr Beswick a Medical Services Officer at Naval Headquarters in Portsmouth, has been responsible for building relationships with the Ministry of Health, Military and volunteer organisations ashore at medical site locations.

During treatment days, his primary function is to control the flow of patients coming through the site, maximising patient numbers without overwhelming the system.

CPO(NN) Brazier, an Emergency Department specialist from Defence Medical Group (South), has been given a number of clinical and leadership roles. One of the most important has been to assist during surgical screening – determining who would benefit most from having surgery on-board and de-screening those that would have limited benefit or who were too unwell to undergo surgery safely. In the eight days spent in Turbo, 131 patients were transferred to the ship for life-changing surgeries.

MA Smith from Defence Medical Group (South West) has used her clinical skills both onboard and ashore. Ashore she manned the triage section, taking vital signs of all medical patients prior to them seeing one of the many clinicians; and onboard she has helped to prepare patients for surgery, taking bloods and running a number of tests to ensure that they are safe to go under the knife.

Along with the 131 surgeries a total of 5,450 patients were seen over a five-day period in Turbo.

One of the highlights of the week was meeting ten-year-old Juan Sebastian who was so grateful for the care being provided that he built a cardboard replica of the Ship and presented it as a thank you.

The Command were so touched by this gift they invited him on-board as a VIP; he received a tour of the ship and dinner in the wardroom.

In-between mission stops in Turbo and Riohacha, Columbia, the team celebrated Thanksgiving with their American colleagues.

The day started with the ‘Turkey Chase’ – a six–lap five-kilometre run, each lap consisted of a loop of the flight deck followed by ten ramps down to the bottom of the ship… and ten ramps back to the flight deck.  Once the run was completed everyone was ready for the traditional Thanksgiving feast.

“The deployment so far has been incredibly rewarding where we are witnessing first-hand the incredible differences we are making to people’s lives as well as relieving pressure on local health services,” said Lt Cdr Beswick.

The RN team will stay with the Comfort for their next two mission stops in Riohacha and Honduras before arriving in Norfolk later this month.