Exploring boundaries - nursing in Sierra Leone

Maggie Durant

23 / 6 / 2015 Midnight

Lt Col Maggie Durrant shares the highlights of her career and her experiences of being mobilised for Operation Gritrock in Sierra Leone.

I qualified from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham as a registered general nurse in 1983, completed the intensive care course and subsequently a post registration diploma. My career has included sister posts in acute surgery and adult intensive care. Prior to moving into management, I’ve worked with all levels of staff, from junior administrative clerks to senior consultants. I am currently the commanding officer at Nursing Squadron at 208 and shortly I will take a new appointment as the second-in-command (2IC) of 202 (Birmingham) Field Hospital. 

I commissioned into the Army Reserves (formerly known as the Territorial Army), as a lieutenant in 1985 serving with a number of field hospital units. I have held various appointments, including adventurous training officer, detachment 2IC, recruiting officer, junior officer mentorship lead, officers' mess treasurer, officers' mess president and officer commanding of the general nursing & healthcare assistant cadre. 

I deployed to Iraq in 2004 as the hospital’s healthcare governance lead and in April 2009, I deployed to the medical facility, Bastion, Afghanistan as the senior nursing officer & healthcare governance lead. From October 2011 to February 2012, I was appointed as the officer commanding the rear operations group of 208 (Liverpool) Field Hospital, and other command team personnel deployed to Afghanistan. 

In November 2014, I mobilised for Operation Gritrock, the UK Government’s response to the Department for International Development's request for assistance to the Ebola Crisis in Western Africa. I was the senior nursing officer of the Ebola Viral Disease Treatment Unit, deploying from December 2014 to March 2015.

An excellent clinical pre-deployment training package and validation exercise at the Army Medical Services training centre provided assurance of our readiness for a role which just weeks before, we knew very little about. There was a very high focus on infection, prevention & control, understandably, with wearing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) inside the red zone. The donning and doffing of PPE safely, correctly according to standard procedures was critical. All work inside the red zone was done in pairs.

Nursing care and effectively communicating with our patients whilst wearing PPE was challenging, speech muffled, clarity lost, with patients only able to see our eyes, but despite this, good relationships were built, accents and names recognised. Happy memorable moments were associated with the Ebola Survivor Ceremony, to contract it and recover, given the mortality rates, is very special and appropriately celebrated. These were truly humbling experiences for those of us taking part, the gratitude of these patients notable, their words of thanks bringing a tear to many eyes.

It has been a great privilege to be part of Op Gritrock, personally and professionally very rewarding, with the learning, development and leadership experiences all transferable skills.

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