22 Nov 2014

‘I felt I had to act’ – NHS volunteers leave to fight Ebola

The first group of GPs, nurses and other medical staff leave the UK today to fly to Sierra Leone to help treat people with Ebola. More than 1,000 volunteers from the NHS have stepped forwards so far.

They are the first wave of NHS volunteers send by the government to Sierra Leone. Around 30 doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and emergency medicine consultants will travel to British-built Ebola treatment centres around the country.

They will first complete a week of intensive training in the capital Freetown before beginning their work diagnosing and treating those who have contracted the virus. Ebola has killed more than 5,000 people so far.

I felt I had to act NHS volunteers leave to fight Ebola

‘Gold standard training’

One of the volunteers is Donna Wood, a senior sister at Haywood Hospital in Staffordshire.

She said: “I’d been following the stories on the news so when I saw an email from the NHS highlighting the Ebola situation in Sierra Leone and calling for volunteers I felt I had act.

“I knew I could use the skills I’ve got to make a difference and join a team to help bring the disease under control.

“We’ve had gold standard training – second to none.

“We’re very lucky in this country to have the NHS, the staff and the skills – it’s just not the case everywhere else. My parents and the whole family are proud of my decision to go.”

The Department for International Development, DFID, have released an interactive website profiling Donna and other volunteers telling the story of the “medics behind the mask”, who explain why they feel compelled to help.

‘More than 1,000 volunteers’

Volunteers from across the NHS have been undergoing intensive training at a Ministry of Defence facility in York. It is expected more teams will be deployed in the next few weeks.

The Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, said: “I have been really impressed with the numbers of NHS workers who have stepped forward to help the communities that have been devastated by Ebola.

“The fact more than 1,000 have come forward so far is a real testament to their commitment to public service.

“I want to offer my thanks to all those that are going, their efforts will make a real difference in West Africa.”

There are almost 1,000 British military personnel, scientists, healthcare and aid workers already on the ground in Sierra Leone.

I felt I had to act NHS volunteers leave to fight Ebola

Professor Tony Redmond, head of the charity UK Med, said:

“The actions of these selfless volunteers in going and the actions of their colleagues and managers to release them and cover for their duties is testimony if ever there was to the altruism that lies at the core of the NHS. I am very proud of them all”.

She added: “But to beat Ebola we desperately need the experience and dedication of skilled doctors and nurses to care for the thousands of sick and dying patients who are not receiving the treatment they need.

“Every one of these NHS heroes will play a vital role in the fight against Ebola. It is only because of their combined efforts that we stand a chance of defeating this disease.”

On the front line of the Ebola outbreak
Alex Thomson reports from Sierra Leone, where the Ebola rampage is tearing communities apart. Click to read his Alex Thomson's blogs