Royal Navy medical staff support the NHS on the frontline

Royal Navy medical staff work alongside the NHS in key hospitals across the UK and have recently increased their support in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Military doctors, nurses, and medical support staff are well established in NHS hospitals, working in a wide range of areas.

At this difficult time, the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth is one location where Naval personnel can be found working round the clock.

As part of UK Defence Medical Services, the Joint Hospital Group (South) (JHG(S)) is based at Queen Alexandra Hospital and has a total of 215 military staff, 79 of whom are serving in the Royal Navy.

Naval personnel usually work in the NHS to maintain clinical skills ready for operations and military tasking, but the virus outbreak has brought the frontline home to UK hospitals which means staff find themselves fighting the pandemic side-by-side with their civilian counterparts.

Alongside their important daily work in established hospitals, Naval medical staff are unique in that they are also held at high readiness to move and support other military tasking in the UK or overseas as part of the Government’s COVID-19 response.

As a military team we’re doing a lot more hours than we were prior to the COVID outbreak. A lot of our external training that we’re required to do as part of military operations has been cancelled as a result of COVID, so many of those hours we’re now spending to try and boost the numbers inside the hospital and the department and support the NHS staff.

Leading Naval Nurse Sarah Belcher

This ability to react quickly and flexibly make Naval personnel particularly valuable to Government as the pandemic situation continues to develop over the coming months.

Commander Alister Witt, the Commanding Officer of JHG(S), said: “Normally it’s us sending our people to the frontline from the hospital here, but very much at the moment the frontline has come to us.

“We’ve had to really get our people onto an operational footing to focus on an operation in the home environment where they’re actually delivering their key clinical skills to help out something that’s a national main effort.”

Leading Naval Nurse Sarah Belcher said: “As a military team we’re doing a lot more hours than we were prior to the COVID outbreak.

A lot of our external training that we’re required to do as part of military operations has been cancelled as a result of COVID, so many of those hours we’re now spending to try and boost the numbers inside the hospital and the department and support the NHS staff.”

Lieutenant Amy Phelps, a Naval Nurse working in critical care, said: “Knowing that you have the skills and experience needed to contribute to this crisis definitely makes me proud, and proud of the whole team I’m working alongside.”

Surgeon Captain Barrie Dekker, the Military Clinical Director of JHG(S), and Divisional Director at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, said:

“We’ve all had to change our working patterns. The NHS Trust are virtually all on twelve hour shifts to try and cover the increased workload, so our military staff are fitting in with that as well, making themselves key members of each one of the teams.”