As a casualty with severe injuries arrives on board RFA Argus following a battlefield skirmish, Royal Navy doctors, nurses and surgeons move into position to begin their fight to save her life.
Moving her down into the Primary Casualty Receiving Facility (PCRF)on board the ship, the medical staff of 250 personnel are fully stood up across their departments to ensure the casualty is stable.
Set to the same standards as any NHS hospital, the PCRF is tested twice a year and under Exercise Medical Endeavour the staff are put through their paces with a number of challenging scenarios to ensure their skills and the set-up is fully validated.
Volunteers are used as casualties with specialist make-up depicting terrible injuries with a number of different issues which the team must work to resolve.
Royal Fleet Auxiliary Argus is also an Aviation Training Ship that works with the Royal Navy across the world, but also holds the specialist PCRF facility on board that can be used in global operations.
Able to receive casualties from the sea, in the event of maritime attack, and also from land when supporting Royal Marine or Tri-Service operations, the facility ensures that casualties are treated and stable before eventually moving them to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham for longer term rehabilitation.
Commander Danny Follington, the Commanding Officer of the PCRF said that many lessons in critical, battlefield, care had been learnt from Afghanistan and, as a consequence, lives were being saved.
He said: “Deployed hospital care is invested in this vessel. Our Maritime in Transit Care Team can fly forward, ventilate, resuscitate, give blood transfusions and bring patients back. It’s one of the lessons we learned from Afghanistan.
“Another is that we now hold 600 units of blood on board and we have the ability to bleed people on board if necessary – that instant access to blood supply has been shown to be critical to saving lives in Bastion and so we ensure that lesson has been brought to the PCRF as well.
“We are set up in the same way as any trauma hospital – there are four teams that can do resuscitation, we have ten Intensive Care Unit beds, 100 ward beds, a full surgical team, microbiologists, radiologists, nursing teams and all of which work at either Derriford or Queen Alexandra hospitals in Plymouth and Portsmouth directly augmenting the NHS.”
The PCRF also boasts state-of-the-art equipment including a 64-slice CT scanner, installed during the last refit. Used in Afghanistan, and also in the NHS, these scanners have been integral to saving the lives of British Servicemen wounded in action.
Consultant radiologist, Surgeon Commander Phil Coates, who has twice deployed to Camp Bastion hospital, said:
“The imaging side of things is key in major trauma, one of things we learned from Afghanistan.
“We can do 3D reconstruction and if a patient has been hit with frag we can see where the organs which have been hit and ensure they get exactly the right care.
“Imaging dictates what happens. It is a fantastic piece of kit, this is state-of-the-art stuff.”
RFA Argus is off the coast of Scotland near Stranraer where, as well as holding Ex Medical Endeavour, she is operating as part of a wider NATO naval war game called Exercise Joint Warrior.
Exercise Joint Warrior involves all three Services but is Europe’s largest naval exercise. More than 34 warships are taking part from the UK, US, Netherlands, France, Denmark, Turkey and Norway with the aim to test the high readiness of the forces involved and the range of capabilities available for short notice operations across the globe.
As well as the marines exercising their amphibious skills, the 12 Royal Navy ships and their international counterparts will be tested in air defence, surface attack and underwater warfare during the three weeks at sea.
The personnel involved will use the exercise to prepare for imminent deployments to the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Middle East where they will carry activities such as maritime security operations, reassuring allies and providing humanitarian disaster relief.
Press Release, April 7, 2014; Image: Royal Navy