Retired Navy captain: Similarities with Nightingale and Camp Bastion hospitals

A former commanding officer at Camp Bastion’s pop-up military hospital has issued a pep-talk to staff working at the new NHS Nightingale hospitals, telling them: “There is an end to this, you will defeat the enemy.”

Captain Carol Betteridge, who ran the field hospital in Helmand Province during British presence in Afghanistan, said there were many comparisons with the pop-up medical centre and the temporary facilities created back on home soil to treat coronavirus patients.

And she praised the staff and volunteers – including military veterans – for getting involved in the Nightingale project, despite the extremely challenging conditions that lay ahead.

Capt Betteridge, who was made an OBE in 2012 for her work in Afghanistan and now works as for military charity Help for Heroes, told the PA news agency: “There are really good comparisons between Nightingale and Camp Bastion – the NHS staff are leaving their families, as we did; they are donning their uniform – their PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), their body armour; they working in a challenging environment, an unknown environment with an invisible enemy; and they are working as a team, looking after each other to your left and right – the buddy-buddy system as we would have in the military.

Duchess of Cornwall presents medals
Duchess of Cornwall presents medals

“What we would do on the battlefield is take a knee – really pausing for your own mindfulness, thinking about what you are going to do and the challenges ahead, looking out for yourselves and each other.

“This important piece of work is going to leave them with memories and difficult times that won’t just end when this battle is over and this enemy is defeated.

“But there is an end to this, you will defeat this enemy. We and your families love you so much for what you’re doing and we thank you.”

The first Nightingale hospital, at the ExCeL London, admitted its first patients on Tuesday, while the second facility will open in Birmingham on Friday.

Further hospitals will open in Bristol, Manchester and Harrogate, NHS England has confirmed.

Capt Betteridge, 59, from near Blandford Forum in Dorset, said staff and volunteers had done an “amazing job” to get the London Nightingale open in such a tight time frame – and described those working in it as “the heroes of today”.

Investitures at Buckingham Palace
Investitures at Buckingham Palace

And she said the support from the public, such as the nation joining in a regular Thursday evening minute’s applause, would provide the same boost to frontline workers as the messages from home did to servicemen and women based in Afghanistan during the early part of the 21st century.

She said: “That visible and open support you get from the community and your families and friends is one of the most important things that keeps you going – you know that your work is helping the country overcome this. That support is invaluable.”

Capt Betteridge joined the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service in 1990 and retired after nearly 25 years’ service.