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HMS Ocean takes part in medical exercise

13 February 2017
Off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, British and American battlefield medics practised their ability to work side-by-side in wartime, using the UK flagship HMS Ocean and her impressive sick bay.

A specialist US medical team joined the helicopter assault group for the casualty drill – one of the tests of the Plymouth-based warship in her role as flagship of the Task Force 50, the premier naval group in the Gulf.

Ocean has been in charge of the group – typically headed by an American carrier – since November, directing the day-to-day efforts of at least half a dozen warships and auxiliaries, and as many as 20 vessels during major exercises.

Azraq Serpent was among the smaller work-outs conducted under Ocean’s banner as TF50 flagship – but a crucial one.

The scenario may be an exercise, and the casualties may be volunteers, but the responses and reactions have to be perfect

Lt Spike Hughes RN

Most of the time Ocean’s sick bay provides a ‘role 1’ service – similar to your GP.

In times of conflict and tension, and with the regular team of eight bolstered by the arrival of extra surgeons, medics and experts from the UK, the medical complex becomes a ‘role 2’ facility – providing life-saving treatment and surgery to casualties before they can be flown off to permanent hospital facilties ashore.

Five days before the exercise began, the US Air Force Special Operations Command Mobile Forward Surgical Team (MFST) were flown aboard the Mighty O by US Navy Seahawk helicopters – a test of the Americans’ ability to deploy rapidly anywhere in the world.

“The scenario may be an exercise, and the casualties may be volunteers, but the responses and reactions have to be perfect,” explained task force medical advisor Lt Spike Hughes.

At stake: the ability to get the three wounded marines (one in danger of losing his limbs, another rapidly losing blood and a third with a gunshot wound to the chest) from a beach to the operating theatre in 60 minutes – the ‘golden hour’.

For Ocean’s permanent medical team, the exercise was a welcome change from dealing with everyday ailments, coughs and colds – and a chance to show the depth of expertise and experience of the sick bay personnel.

“We are your GP, your paramedic, your nurse. We provide gold-standard care as a rule,” said Chief Petty Officer Medical Assistant Tim Johnston.

“It has to be gold-standard. You need the men and women to have confidence in our ability to provide them with the very best care –- they deserve that.”

The Americans were delighted with the hosts – and the medical equipment aboard.

“Our main training aim was to explore the viability of operating from this type of ship and deal with patients using the facilities on board.

“This I am pleased to say was very successful,” said Lt Col Neva Vanderschaegen USAF, in charge of the MFST.

Observing Azraq Serpent was Task Force 50 commander Commodore Andrew Burns. He said it was “an excellent step forward in establishing confidence in our ability to support real world emergencies or crisis.”

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