Dumfries and Galloway Doctor Tells Her Covid Story

Dumfries and Galloway Doctor says fighting Diphtheria in Bangladesh and delivering emergency care in Myanmar, Jordan and Gaza has helped her to fight COVID back home. 

As the NHS faces a crisis of staff burnout; Emergency Medicine Doctor Freda Newlands from Dumfries and Galloway Hospital NHS Trust tells how fighting Diphtheria in Bangladesh and training health teams to respond to mass casualty events in Myanmar with frontline medical aid charity UK-Med prepared her for the fight against COVID-19 back home.

‘It builds your resilience, your capability, and ability to feel calm. I think it’s very good to have worked in low resource hospitals so that you’re able to appreciate what you’ve got and what’s available at home,’ says Freda.

Her comments come as findings from a new report produced by UK-Med highlights how doctors and nurses who’ve returned from international emergency medical responses bring vital skills and experience back to the NHS, particularly in relation to COVID-19.

Freda spent six weeks supporting doctors and nurses to treat diphtheria patients in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox Bazar, Bangladesh in 2018.

‘We had to develop charts for monitoring blood pressures and temperatures and develop our own drug regimens for the diphtheria antitoxins because there were none. You’d work in the evening to try and think with a small team of other UK-Med clinicians: This is the problem. How can we get around this? How are we going to delegate these tasks to others to help us?’

She’s also spent six months both on the North Jordan border with Medicine Sans Frontier treating war wounded patients in 2015 and with Médecins du Monde in Gaza, training healthcare workers to prepare for mass-casualty events in 2019.

‘You have to take some time out and recognise that you have to get away from it – which was more challenging when you’re overseas as you can’t necessarily do that.   In Jordan and in Gaza, due to security we were not able to even walk outside our house and hospital.
‘In the emergency department, I think we’re very bad at taking breaks especially when there’s a queue of patients out the door. You do have to have some-kind of escape valve.

Freda’s experience mirrors 83-98% of survey respondents who reported improvements in their clinical skills, resilience, well-being, and the ability to provide better patient experiences, following a response.

Back home Freda has drawn from her overseas experience to adapt medical emergency simulation training sessions for GPs during the pandemic.

88% of UK Med survey respondents in the report also said they use the skills directly gained through UK-Med in their COVID-19 response.

‘We have had some pretty tragic events happen locally, it is difficult for staff to switch off.  So I helped to try and organise departmental walking groups so we can get out into the hills,’ she says.

UK-Med’s report ‘Global health responders – a shot in the arm for the NHS’ makes recommendations to NHS leaders to encourage participation in global health emergency responses as a way to develop skills and build resilience within the NHS.

Professor Tony Redmond OBE, Founder and Chair of UK-Med summarises the importance of the reports’ findings:

“There is no health without global health. The recent pandemic has shown just how quickly disease can spread and how our NHS must be trained and prepared for any eventuality.  Experience gained in disasters and outbreaks by NHS staff fortifies our defences and increases our resilience.  A global Britain needs global experience.”

UK-Med is a Manchester based charity with more than 25 years-experience responding to health emergencies around the world including Lebanon, Armenia, Botswana and Papua New Guinea.  Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the charity has responded to more than 22 requests for support either independently or as part of the UK Emergency Medical Team, the UK government’s frontline response to a humanitarian crisis.

For more information visit www.uk-med.org.

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