Hospital nurse joins fight against ebola virus in Sierra Leone

It was going to be a luxury cruise to New York on the Queen Mary – but now Kath Higgins is flying to Sierra Leone to help in the fight against ebola 

The senior Merseyside nurse, who is a member of the Army Reserves with the Queen Alexander Royal Army Nursing Corps, will travel with 207 Field Hospital to West Africa next month.

“I had an inkling that I might be called up but I was caught by surprise with the timing,” said Kath. “I booked a cruise on a Sunday night and my call-up papers arrived the next day.”

Instead, Kath squeezed in a holiday to the Canary Islands with husband Andrew between standing down from her role as Head of Nursing for Planned Care at Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust and four weeks’ specialist training in the UK.

As Major Higgins, she will be in post as a nursing officer near the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, shortly before Christmas and be away for up to four months.

“I’m going to be doing very much what I do in Southport and Ormskirk – being a nurse – but in a very different environment.

“Local doctors and nurses in Sierra Leone are particularly at risk from infection because they are treating people who already have ebola. Our field hospital’s role is to treat health care staff and aid workers who become ill through their work.”

Sierra Leone is one of a number of West African countries hit badly by the ebola virus which typically kills more than 50% of people who become infected. Ebola emerged in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa and currently has no known cure.

Kath joined the Army Reserves, formerly the Territorial Army, in 1981 when she began training to be a nurse at the former Park Hospital in Davyhulme, Greater Manchester. She was commissioned in 2005 and served at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan in 2010.

Service life is very much a family affair. Her father was in the RAF and son, Duane, was formerly in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

Husband Andrew is Combat Medical Technician and Warrant Officer (Second Class) in the Army Reserves and only recently returned from a tour of Afghanistan. They live in Burnley.

“In fact, from the date I get back, we will have only spent five weeks out of the previous 12 months together which reflects the value the military places on Reserves,” said Kath.

Reaction among Kath’s hospital colleagues to her posting has been mixed: “A number of people are quite jealous and said ‘I so envy you’ but others think I need my head testing.

“I’m confident I’ll be fine. The Army is very good at making sure their people are kept safe and properly trained for the challenges they face, both in terms of their own ability and resources they’re given.”

She also believes the skills and experience she learns in Sierra Leone will benefit the Trust.

“I’ll be bringing back first-hand experience of dealing with the most serious types of infection control issues which has to be to the benefit of everyone.”

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