Prof Lavy and OUH Consultant Anaesthetist Dr Viv Addy take ambulance of supplies to Ukraine border.
On our own, we cannot end wars or wipe out injustice, but the cumulative impact of thousands of small acts of goodness can be bigger than we imagine.” Queen Elizabeth II Christmas speech 2016
When the war in Ukraine started the world was appalled, but for most of us health workers in UK our lives did not change much. There was however a group of UK medics and nurses for whom the impact was catastrophic. The lives of the UK Ukrainian medical diaspora changed overnight. Their relatives and families back in Ukraine were at risk, and many of their colleagues and school/university mates were suddenly on the front line. Thousands were being injured, and all normal supply chains were broken. The UK government supported DEC charity raised millions but only a small part of this went to medical care and the urgent clinical needs of the people, particularly in the east of Ukraine remained enormous.
Viv and I met Midlands GP Tania Hebert who with many many helpers in the new charity Medical Aid Ukraine has tirelessly collected key medical supplies and equipment, and is in daily contact with her colleagues and the Ministry of Health in Ukraine, as the needs change. We also met Polish born Stratford on Avon businessman Alf Rajkowski, who in response to the need for front line transport set up the charity Ambulance Aid, collecting used but working ambulances, cleaning and servicing them, coordinating with Medical Aid Ukraine, filling them with supplies specifically requested by front line hospitals then sending them out on the 1200 mile journey to Ukraine.
Of course this is not a sustainable solution to all the medical needs of Ukraine, but for front line medics in a situation where there are victims of mortar attacks, hundreds of open fractures and no dressings or sutures left, the arrival of an ambulance of extra supplies has been a Godsend. This is not the place for a strategic review of medical services in a time of war, but the front line orthopaedic surgeons have reported back saying that the hundreds of external fixators already given by Medical Aid Ukraine have significantly increased the limb salvage rate.
Dr Viv Addy consultant anaesthetist at OUH and I have worked together as a team in theatre before, and wanted to do a small part to help our East European colleagues. When I heard of Alf’s Ambulance Aid and also that BBC’s Holby City Hospital was closing after 23 years I jumped on the email to the TV series director who was happy to release to us the programme’s ambulance, that was serviced and MOT’d despite only driving a few hundred yards a year around the Elstree Studio. Alf suggested that Viv and I might join the team and drive an ambulance together and we agreed. A total of 60 years consultant team work in NHS operating theatres was good training for a 1200 mile 2 day drive across the whole of Europe.
We set off in convoy with a second ambulance. We were two drivers per ambulance and our plan was to change drivers every two hours with a coffee/bladder stop at a convenient services. The journey was tiring but fun. The roads were generally in good order with motorways and no border formalities from Calais to Eastern Poland. A friend of Viv had prepared a picnic that kept us fortified with veggie wraps, pork pies, apples, pringles and coronation chicken pies. We set off from Oxford at midnight on day 1, had a good sleep at Dover before getting the first ferry of the morning, then by the end of day 2 were in East Germany and had our second night in a motorway services car park. On day 3 we crossed Poland, arriving at our secret rendezvous near the border at mid day. We greeted and hugged the Ukrainian team to whom we handed over the vehicles and by the time we got the evening flight back to Stansted we heard that the ambulances were already past Lviv and on their way to the front line.
Ours was a small part, supporting a couple of small organisations that are working with many others to help those in need on the front lines in this terrible conflict. We made many new friends, and will continue to show the health workers of Ukraine that we are with them in thoughts and prayers at this tragic time for their country.
If any readers are interested in donating to either of the charities we worked alongside their contact details are: