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Royal Navy Doctor Honoured

9 November 2017
A Royal Naval doctor has said he is humbled to be awarded an MBE next month as reward for his humanitarian work treating migrants rescued by Plymouth-based survey ship HMS Enterprise in the Mediterranean.

Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Will Sharp saved a critically ill baby’s life with emergency resuscitation and stabilisation, before travelling on a dangerous small boat transfer to transfer the infant and mother to hospital. 

He and his small team worked long days dealing with neglected trafficked patients, pregnant mothers, fatalities, infections, illnesses and victims of all types of violence. 

His mentoring and leadership under extreme pressure is also recognised. The award ceremony is before the end of the year
I was very proud that we were able to show these people care and compassion at times of personal suffering. Some of the stories of those rescued were horrific.

Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Will Sharp RN

Will, who until recently worked at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset, said: “I am incredibly humbled by the award which is completely unexpected.  This was very much a team effort and without the support and professionalism of my small team of medics and ship's company, the outcome for many of these people we rescued could have been very different.’’

He is now studying for a Diploma in Aerospace Medicine in London, preparing him for future doctor appointments to the new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.

As the principal medical officer on board HMS Enterprise, Will, from Hove, Sussex, helped treat many of the thousands of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean under a multi-national operation. 

One of his major achievements involved the ship rescuing 712 people from six dangerously overcrowded and unseaworthy rubber boats in a single day.  Will attempted the emergency resuscitation of two migrants on their boats, before having to perform the sad duty of certifying their deaths and embarking the bodies.

His caring professionalism has been praised by the MBE citation - ‘a difficult duty which he performed with the utmost dignity, providing what comfort he could to their watching families’.

In a 50-hour rescue he conducted the initial assessment of almost every migrant embarked and treated almost 100 patients. Constantly on call, he spent the entire period treating patients and directing the medical team. Performing an emergency surgical procedure to resuscitate a two week-old baby in danger of dying with a blood infection, Sharp stabilised his condition after several hours’ work before finally joining the mother and child on a perilous night boat transfer for an onwards flight to a hospital ashore.

Dealing with many types of illness and injury including severe chemical burns, gunshot wounds, serious infection, and victims of violence, he is said to have displayed ‘professionalism and considerable ingenuity’.  Thanks to him not a single patient died once on board.

On top of this emergency care, Will provided hugely beneficial training to the ship’s medical team and extra medical assistants. He also introduced a foetal heart rate monitor, allowing the medical team to treat pregnant mothers.  The citation states ‘Sharp is an example of the very best of the Royal Navy Medical Service, and is thoroughly worthy of an award.’

He said the role as the single doctor in HMS Enterprise was the biggest challenge of his career:  “Knowing that I could be confronted with people of all age ranges with a wide variety of illnesses, of which some may be life threatening, was daunting.

“I was very proud that we were able to show these people care and compassion at times of personal suffering. Some of the stories of those rescued were horrific.

“We treated those with evidence of torture and serious assault and we treated victims of rape. Many of the people who had been trafficked were held in camps ashore for days or weeks before deprived of adequate levels of food and water.

“We treated mothers and newly born babies who had been born in camps ashore with no access to medical support.’’

Most of the pregnant women rescued heard their babies’ heart beat for the first time thanks to Will and his team - their delight was very rewarding to the medics among the suffering. 

Will said: “I will always remember the mother’s gratefulness to us for making her baby boy with sepsis better before he went to hospital.  In the UK I would have put this baby straight into an ambulance for hospital, something I didn't have the immediate luxury of here.’’

The medics had to recover bodies from boats and Will said: “One of the hardest things was telling family members their relatives had not survived, but we did so in as sensitive a way as possible.

“Not an easy job but an important one. To be able to show humanity and care to people who have suffered, more than many of us could ever imagine, was personally and professionally humbling for me.’’

Will has earlier worked in Plymouth-based HMS Argyll and Falmouth-based RFA Fort Victoria in the Arabian Gulf.  He was also a doctor with the Royal Navy’s operation during the London 2012 Olympics and trained as a GP in Portsmouth and Sussex. 

He attended Worcester’s Pitmaston Primary and Royal Grammar School where he joined the Combined Cadet Force.

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