Member Voices: Liz Wennington

This month, with World Humanitarian Day, marked on 19th August, we’re celebrating our members and the teams they work alongside all over the world. 

The friendly smiling Burmese doctors we met on the way were the true heroes …

Liz Wennington, Emergency Nurse Practitioner and UK-Med member shares her experiences of her capacity building trip to Myanmar with UK-Med supporting the UK Emergency Medical Team.

My name is Liz Wennington and I have worked for the NHS for 40 years since arriving from Malaysia on a very cold December day in 1978 to start my nurse training.   I remembered being driven from Heathrow to my nurses’ accommodation and black bin bags lined the streets- that famous Winter of Discontent (now I am showing my age)! I have worked in various Emergency Departments, finally settling in a Walk in Centre that treats minor illness and injuries in Greater London as an Emergency Nurse Practitioner.   

I was absolutely thrilled to be selected to go to Myanmar providing technical support in Disaster Preparedness and Mass Casualty management planning.  I am glad that there is no age limit to join UK-Med. And so there I was starting another personal journey, something that I wanted to do for a very long time but children got in the way of fulfilling my passion. 

The Burmese are such warm and friendly people and so willing to learn from the workshops we ran. What amazed me most was the “can do” attitude of all the doctors and nurses I met. There was no such thing as a hospital divert when there is no hospital bed. One reply was “We will make beds even if the patient has to be admitted onto benches and chairs.”   Medical wards that have capacity for 60 beds often accommodate 80.  The hospitals are short of ancillary staff because porters can made more money driving a taxi.  The staff are supported by medical students and relatives who will wash and feed family members and act as porter to transport to X-ray or CT departments. I saw relatives washing a patient in the resusitation room whilst the medic “did their thing”! I was told that medical students often act as porters and spent very little time in history taking and clinical examination. 

The friendly smiling Burmese doctors we met on the way were the true heroes. They worked in conditions that to my eyes were very challenging and with a lack of basic equipment like sphygmomanometers and oxygen monitoring equipment. 

The various clinical departments tended to work in isolation and the UK Emergency Medical Team facilitated a more collaborative approach during Major Incident Management.  It was lovely to see the participants engaging and I learned so much about how their health systems works, which will definitely help me if ever I get deployed to that part of the world. 

There is no public ambulance service in Myanmar and patients are bought in by ‘charity ambulances’, which sometimes can be a tuk-tuk.  The hospitals had their own ambulances for transfer of patients to other parts of the hospital because the hospital was large and sprawling, with many different buildings.

As for me, I ran workshops on public health incidents, control of infection and triage. I took a keen interest in the nurses. Beautiful scented jasmine flowers weaved into their hair and they wore longyis (sarong), hats, long sleeved blouses and flip flops. Flip flops for the doctors too!  Different grades of nurse wore different kind of hats, different coloured longyis:  red for student nurses, green for sisters, blue for matrons and mustard for nursing officers.  Emergency Department nurses wore scrubs with no hats. It tended to be very hierarchical, with the nurses on one side and the doctors on the other. The nurses were quieter during the workshops but as the days progressed it was rewarding to see them participate. I was extremely proud to be called ‘mamak’ (big sister) by the nurses. 

A very big thank you UK-Med for giving me this amazing opportunity to work with an amazing team, including Myanmar’s Humanity & Inclusion Team.  

It was enriching, fulfilling, rewarding and I would do it all over again.

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