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NHS staff depart for Ebola mission

The first NHS staff have left for Sierra Leone to join the fight against Ebola.

A group of around 30, including GPs, nurses, psychiatrists and emergency medicine consultants, left London's Heathrow Airport and will arrive in the west African country's capital Freetown early tomorrow morning.

They are the first wave of NHS volunteers to be deployed by the Government.

Following their arrival they will complete a week of training before moving to British-built Ebola treatment centres across the country.

They will then start work diagnosing and treating those who have contracted the virus, which has killed more than 5,000 people.

One of those leaving today, Dr Hannah Ryan, 29, from the intensive care unit at Aintree University Hospital, said: "I guess there are many reasons I volunteered for this; I am interested in infectious disease medicine, I have always wanted to do humanitarian work, I wanted to take on the challenge of working in this complex environment. But mainly I found myself less and less able to hear about the evolving situation in west Africa and the increasing loss of life and do nothing. I felt I just had to go.

"The first aim of this operation is simply to get well-trained staff there to open more treatment centre beds and see more patients, and do it safely. I hope more NHS staff, particularly nurses and laboratory staff, will hear about this and be encouraged to volunteer. "

Dr Mark Willcox, 26, a GP from the Wirral, said: "I am in a position to go and help. I was greatly assisted by the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin in getting a medical education so it's a privilege to give something back. We have received superb training by the UK military, who really should be recognised for their outstanding efforts in this crisis.

"My GP practice has been hugely supportive of me going which has been fantastic."

Dr James Lavers, 37, an intensive care registrar from Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, said: "I decided to volunteer for the Ebola response in Sierra Leone because this could be the biggest medical disaster of my lifetime, killing hundreds of thousands of people in the region. To prevent this from happening and save vast numbers of lives, large-scale intervention has to happen now."

Dr Roger Alcock, a consultant in emergency and paediatric medicine at Scotland's Forth Valley Royal Hospital, said: "I have respect for the situation in Sierra Leone but I think with the training we've had we will be able to make a difference. My colleagues have been incredibly supportive, both on an individual and an organisational level. I think I have the skills as an emergency physician to help."

Thomas Waters, 26, a paramedic with the West Midlands Ambulance Service, said: "I feel anxious and nervous but confident in the training that we have had by the military so we can practise safely. If we can make a difference to just one life, it will all be worth it. It is important to remember we are the first wave and here to develop a platform for other volunteers to follow on from us."

More teams of volunteers are set to leave in the coming weeks after hundreds came forward to offer their services.

They have been preparing for deployment with intensive training at a Ministry of Defence facility in York.

Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said: "I have been really impressed with the numbers of NHS workers who have stepped forward to help the communities that have been devastated by Ebola.

"The fact more than 1,000 have come forward so far is a real testament to their commitment to public service.

"I want to offer my thanks to all those that are going, their efforts will make a real difference in West Africa."

Professor Tony Redmond, head of the charity UK Med, said: "The actions of these selfless volunteers in going and the actions of their colleagues and managers to release them and cover for their duties is testimony if ever there was to the altruism that lies at the core of the NHS. I am very proud of them all".

International Development Secretary Justine Greening said Britain's response to the crisis was one of its biggest to a disease outbreak, with almost 1,000 military personnel, scientists, healthcare and aid workers already on the ground.

She added: "But to beat Ebola we desperately need the experience and dedication of skilled doctors and nurses to care for the thousands of sick and dying patients who are not receiving the treatment they need.

"Every one of these NHS heroes will play a vital role in the fight against Ebola. It is only because of their combined efforts that we stand a chance of defeating this disease."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "I want to thank the brave NHS volunteers who are heading to Sierra Leone today to help in the fight against Ebola. They embody the values at the heart of our health service, and their expertise and dedication is second to none."

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