UK-Med’s Dr. John Irvine makes it home in time for Christmas

UK-Med’s John Irvine has been featured by a number of publications, including the Scotsman and Edinburgh Live! Read an adapted version of the press release below:

John Irvine had faced spending the festive period in a quarantine hotel when he returns to Scotland from helping with Malawi’s COVID-19 response on Thursday 23rd December.

John has been training intensive care and A&E medics on how to save critically ill patients on a deployment with the UK EMT (UK Emergency Medical Team). Following the discovery of the Omicron variant in South Africa last month, John took the decision to extend his stay by two weeks.

But arrivals from the 11 African countries put on the red list will no longer need to quarantine after the measure was lifted – as long as they test negative for COVID.

Relieved John, from Linlithgow, joked: “It’s great news I will be able to enjoy a normal Christmas with my family, although it means I’ll now need to make a mad dash to the shops to buy some presents.

“I return on Thursday and with Malawi having been put on the red list, I faced being sent straight to a quarantine hotel for two weeks. I’d have spent Christmas and New Year under lock and key.

The discovery of Omicron meant that Malawi was then put on the red list. I knew my decision to stay on would mean sacrificing Christmas but the training we have been delivering will save lives.

“My parents have the whole family round and it’s the only time we all get together, so I’m delighted that the travel restrictions have been lifted. Having spent over two months working hard helping Malawi in its fight against COVID, I was not looking forward to spending the festive period stuck in a hotel room on my own.

“We had been due to return from our deployment with the UK EMT on December 9, but I had extended my stay to support the opening of a maternity war for pregnant women with COVID and to continue much needed training around Malawi.

“The discovery of Omicron meant that Malawi was then put on the red list. I knew my decision to stay on would mean sacrificing Christmas but the training we have been delivering will save lives.”

John flew out for his eight-week deployment on October 14 following a request for support from the Malawi Ministry of Health. UK-Med is a partner of the UK EMT; the UK Government’s frontline response to humanitarian crisis overseas, with hundreds of registered medics like John on 24-hour standby for a deployment. UK aid pays for EMT staffs’ regular roles to be backfilled to ensure the NHS is not impacted.

Sharing knowledge and experience

John has been based at Kamuzu Hospital, Lilongwe and has also delivered training in the northern districts of Rhumpi and Chitipa. The team has been helping to improve Malawi’s patient referral system by enabling health care teams to identify early warning signs of patient deterioration to save lives.

“The pandemic will never be over unless we use our expertise and vaccines to help countries beat COVID. Virus do not respect borders.

“The UK was at the sharp end of the first wave of the COVID pandemic, so we’ve learned a lot about how patients best respond and treatments and drugs to use. Our team can now pass on this knowledge to health systems that are not as well-resourced as the NHS to help them save lives and get on top of this.”

John teaching Initial Assessment at a Ministry of Health-WHO Training of Trainers event. Photo credit: Iain Lennon

“I’ve been working alongside Malawian nurses and mentoring them and offering suggestions of different approaches to patient care based on the experience we’ve gained combating COVID in the UK. We can offer practical advice.

“We’ve been able to help show them how things like non-invasive ventilation rather than intubating people can stop patients from deteriorating and bring about a better outcome. We also found that the medics in Malawi were wary about using Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), so we’ve been able to help them identify the optimum timing.”

A sacrifice worth making

“I started my nursing training in 2005 and it was always in the back of my mind that I would want to use my nursing to help people around the world. I got involved with the UK EMT in 2015 after seeing news about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. I did not get out to Sierra Leone, but I’ve now helped on COVID deployments to Lebanon and Malawi.

“My mum’s always been a bit anxious about my travels, especially when news broke of the new omicron variant, but I was not too worried, and my dad is like ‘I’m really proud of you’.

“I find this work really rewarding, so even if I had missed Christmas with my family it’s a sacrifice worth making, because I feel like I’m making a positive impact.”

A huge thank you to John for sharing his story, and for all of his and the team’s work in Malawi over the past two months. You can read more about the COVID-19 response in Malawi here.

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