Norfolk ambulance worker joins fight against Ebola in west Africa

Pete Simpson, who works for the East of England Ambulance Service Trust, who has gone out to Sierra

Pete Simpson, who works for the East of England Ambulance Service Trust, who has gone out to Sierra Leone to join the fight against Ebola. - Credit: Archant

A Norfolk lifesaver has become one of the first NHS workers in the region to join the fight against the deadly Ebola virus in west Africa.

Pete Simpson, of Thorpe Marriott, who has worked for the ambulance service for almost 30 years, flew out to Sierra Leone at the weekend to help bolster the western world's response to the disease, which has killed more than 4,000 people in Africa.

The 51-year-old, who is responsible for the training of hundreds of front-line staff at the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST), arrived in Freetown on Saturday to help run the capital's Ebola command centre and coordinate efforts to control and contain the virus.

The clinical operations manager for the ambulance service in Hellesdon spoke of his excitement and nervousness about joining the international battle against Ebola, who is set to spend the next five weeks in Sierra Leone.

The father-of-three is one of 800 NHS staff from across the country to have volunteered to go out to west Africa, with many joining the aid effort in the coming months.

However, the ambulance service manager was one of the first to fly out from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on a military cargo plane on Saturday, organised by the Department for International Development.

Mr Simpson, whose duties will involve coordinating ambulances, tracking bed capacity, and training local health staff, said his family were concerned, but proud of his volunteering mission.

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Speaking before his flight, he said: 'I would be incredibly naive if I did not have concerns, but I will take precautions to prevent the risk. There is risk in life whatever you do, but if you identify the risks and minimise the risks that is the best you can do. If you are scared you are extra cautious.'

'It will be exciting and interesting and a great experience and if I can do something positive, that is going to be great.'

Mr Simpson, who joined the ambulance service in 1986, was interviewed by UK-Med for the volunteering role last Monday and was told on Thursday that a flight had been secured to join the Ebola command centre with the King's Sierra Leone Partnership.

He added that the management team at EEAST had been very supportive.

'You can either be part of the solution or part of the problem and I would rather be part of the solution. There is a lot of ignorance about how it is transferred.

'We would be better placed if we had knowledge and experience dealing with it. I can do something positive there and bring back experience back here for our ambulance service. I do not have any concerns about our ability to respond here, but if I can get additional information that can help to reduce risk to staff and minimise risk, that has to be a good thing,' he said.

Mr Simpson, who received the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service in 2009 for improving lifesaving skills in local schools, added he was 'prepared for the worst'.

'The average life expectancy is 45 and there is a 20pc mortality rate for under 5s and it looks very poverty stricken. It may be they need many more ambulances, but we have the same problem in the East of England. If you have all the ambulances you need for all the sick people, there is no use if there is no hospital or treatment centre to take them to,' he said.

EEAST chief executive Dr Anthony Marsh said: 'I am immensely proud that Pete will be providing clinical leadership as Ambulance Coordinator working in the Ebola Command Centre. As we know with these vital roles, it takes a very special kind of person to be prepared to leave their loved ones and their life behind to play their part in building and strengthening the local health system.

'I know Peter would not have taken this decision lightly, given the risks involved in working in such an environment, but it's very clear that Sierra Leone as with other affected areas needs more and more support from us. On behalf of the service, I have given him my very best wishes and we will be in regular contact with him during his crucial work there.'

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