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TA doctors' gruelling tour of duty with the US Marines

Rebecca Black embeds with our Army reserve as they simulate battle zone conditions in Nevada desert and LA

Northern Ireland's most senior doctor has paid tribute to a team of NHS medics who endured a gruelling two-week training course at a US Marine camp.

The doctors of 204 Field Hospital, a Hydebank-based reserve unit of the Army, spent their time on the sweltering west coast, learning how to deliver aid in the extremes of a battle zone.

Exercise 'Integrated Serpent' saw them set up a field hospital in the Nevada desert and undertake a combat training course at Camp Pendleton, which is almost as big as the counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh combined.

They also banked experience at the Los Angeles County Hospital, one of the busiest trauma centres in the world.

Among the reservists who took part were doctors, nurses and even a baker from Armagh and a bus inspector from Dungannon. Many had already served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia. Their next deployment is expected to be in 2017.

The physical training included rock climbing on Mount Charleston, as well as mountain biking and horse riding.

"Our aim was to push them to help them develop how they communicate and work as a team under stress," said physical training instructor Gavin McCarthy.

Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer commended the contribution of the Army medics to the health service. Michael McBride also praised an arrangement at Los Angeles County Hospital (LAC) where the US Navy form a close partnership with civilian staff.

The senior doctor, who was among a group of VIP guests who visited the US to observe the medics, said: "The model is clearly one they have worked hard to develop.

"Taking a health provider and integrating it seamlessly with marines is not an easy task because culturally they are quite different."

He said he would take ideas back to Northern Ireland from his trip, but pointed out that at home most medics in the Reserves are already embedded in our health service as NHS workers.

Mr McBride also said he had noted the similar pressures that the emergency department at LAC shared with Belfast.

"You always visit hoping that somewhere someone has found a magic bullet, but again it is always reassuring to know that there is no magic bullet, there is no one solution and they face the same challenges in their emergency departments, and at times they often have more excessive waits than we do," he said. Mr McBride travelled with 204 Field Hospital unit before in 2013, when they received training immediately prior to being deployed to Afghanistan.

He said he has been impressed with the training in the US as well as the experience gained in their services, particularly in treating Ebola victims in Sierra Leone.

Northern Ireland's Chief Nursing Officer Charlotte McArdle also took part in the trip. "The things I have reflected on in the two days I have been here would be the personal passion, dedication and commitment that the nurses, doctors and health care workers have shown in their time here," she said. "Those personal skills are very transferable."

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