At the recent Nato summit in Strasbourg Gordon Brown pledged 1,000 extra troops for Afghanistan. Reporter Paul Bradley visited medics from the Kings Heath 202 Field Hospital during their final training ahead of their deployment to Camp Bastion next week.
Blood lies splattered on the floor. Two casualties have just been hit in a rocket attack and soldiers from Kings Heath 202 Field Hospital are facing a race against the clock to get them back to the hospital at Camp Bastion.
Lives and limbs are at stake, and as the seconds tick by the medics know it will be touch and go if the two casualties will survive.
Both men are in immense pain, screaming loudly and desperately for help. One of them has had their leg blown off, the other has severe head injuries and is losing consciousness.
In stark and drastic comparison to their day jobs, doctors from dozens of Midlands hospitals are not only treating the wounds of soldiers, but rescuing them from front line battle zones.
“It’s absolutely terrifying,” says Lt Harriet Launders, a 32-year-old cancer pharmacist from Walsall Manor Hospital.
“We’ve had so much infantry training and direction on weapons and tactics that is actually a shock to be back in the hospital treating patients again.
“It’s true to say that it is really quite intimidating knowing that we have to hit the ground running when we get to Afghanistan.”
This time the unfolding events are just a simulation.
About 100 reservists from 202 Field Hospital are being put through their final pre-deployment training at the Army Medical Services Training Centre in Strensall, Yorkshire.
All of them work at Midlands hospitals and their jobs range from chief executives to ward sisters. Next week they will say goodbye to loved ones in Birmingham and fly out to Afghanistan to deal with the peak in casualties at Camp Bastion.
The improving spring weather will see more fire fights between the British and coalition forces and the Taliban.
The summer elections, which Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai demanded 4,000 extra peace-keeping troops for, will also see their workload spike noticeably.
The role the reservists play is hugely important to the combined British forces especially as there is currently a shortage of trained medics.
About1,000 TA medics are currently employed by the Government to bridge the gap.
Officers claim the effect on the NHS is minimal, pointing to the fact that the same number of NHS staff are off work sick every day.
Surgeon General, Lt General Louis Lillywhite, who was at Strensall to cast an eye over the training facilities, said: “The trick to recruiting more medics is providing
more realistic training like we are today. If doctors and nurses see they get the very best in terms of preparations for being deployed into theatre, then they will want to join up.
“The experience they gain out there will be phenomenal. They will have more difficult tasks to deal with and they will be under much greater pressure than they are used to in their civilian role.
“The outcome of that is that they will bring these benefits back to the NHS on their return and the NHS will be able to use their new skills.”
But it is not all plain sailing for employers who are left with the difficult task of replacing experienced staff for short periods of time.
Major Jane Bradbury, a 40-year-old nursing sister at the critical care unit at Russell’s Hall Hospital, in Dudley, will be off work for a total of eight months.
Her years of experience will be heavily missed by the staff she leaves behind, especially as they are already looking to recruit people to fill current nursing vacancies.
Kaye Sheppard, matron on the critical care unit, has the unenviable job of finding a temporary new recruit.
She said: “If we had a staff nurse that was ready for a sister’s post we could put them in a development role for six months.
“But because we have vacancies at that level, we have nobody to do that.
“And anyway, training a nurse takes three months, which is a lot of effort when you consider that the position is only for eight months or so.
“We will have to recruit from an agency but that will be really quite expensive.
“For us we are learning how to deal with our staff leaving for deployment with the Territorial Army.
“We are coping fine at the moment, but if we lost a few more then we would really start to struggle.”
The employer’s responsibility goes well beyond coping without a staff member for a number of months.
When Jane returns, she will be given two months extended leave in order for her to get used to civilian life again.
She will have gone through a life changing experience, seeing a different rhythm of life and death, with much less control of patients’ long term care than she may be used to.
To date, 152 British soldiers have died in Afghanistan, and hundreds more have been sent to Royal Medical Defence Centre at Selly Oak, with serious, life altering injuries.
When Jane eventually starts back at Russell’s Hall, it will be in a supernumerary role, so she can get to grips with any changes which have happened while she has been away.
She will also have to re-adapt to the pace of the NHS compared to the non-stop action in Afghanistan.
One of the experiences the reservists are prepared for is the ethical situations they will face.
British medics will treat anybody whose life is in danger, including allies in the Afghan army as well as enemy Taliban fighters.
They know to be on the look-out for any weapons that may be brought into the hospital with such casualties.
Even more difficult is the treatment of Afghan civilians.
The health infrastructure in Helmand Province is a long way behind the UK and Northern Afghanistan, senior Army officers say.
If a child comes in with a wound, it can be treated and bandaged up. But when they leave hospital they could die from an infection as there is little primary care support in the region.
If the child survives the wound, they may not survive the backlash from their community. It has been reported that some Afghan civilian casualties, treated by British medics, have been murdered along with their families when they return back to their communities.
Major Bradbury, who has a four-year-old son called James, and a eight-year-old daughter called Jessica, said: “The ethical positions we will be put in out there are unbelievable. It is so difficult to understand them from the civilian role we are used to.
“But when we get out there we will just have to do our best for our patient at that time. When it comes to the Afghans we will have to get them in and out of the hospital as soon as possible.”