Celebrating 29 years of UK-Med

Next year, UK-Med turns 30.

So we thought we’d take this opportunity to celebrate all we’ve achieved in our first two decades and thank all the hundreds of people who’ve helped make us who we are today.

This includes our medical staff – who’ve shown incredible courage by responding for us all over the world; our Head Office team, who always get us where we need to go – often despite logistical challenges; and all those who’ve sponsored us to do the work we do – not least the NHS and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

A little bit of history

Our on-site emergency medical work began with a small team of specialist doctors. Today, our Register hosts hundreds of NHS and international medics; all rigorously trained to respond to emergencies caused by disease outbreaks, disasters and conflicts that hurt millions of people every year.

We’re proud to be the UK’s frontline medical aid charity: constantly on-call to reach disaster zones around the globe at 24 hours’ notice.

Founded by Professor Tony Redmond, UK-Med as we know it today emerged in response to a two-year programme in Sarajevo, aptly named Operation Phoenix: Healing the Wounds of War.

Tony had been working in the besieged city since 1992, having originally offered the services of his South Manchester-based accident rescue team to the local health officials.

Known as SMART, it began in 1988 when Tony gathered together a volunteer group of highly-skilled NHS colleagues – whose specialisms ranged from plastic surgery to anaesthetics and burns – to ensure that patients could receive the same level of care at the scene of an emergency as they would in theatre.

Who we are

Four years on, with the SMART team having been invited to attend numerous emergencies – including the Armenian earthquake of 1988, then the Lockerbie air disaster – Tony saw that the needs in Sarajevo were too great for a small team, so in April 1994 he began drawing on NHS staff from across the UK and, with an initial pool of 100 volunteers, UK-Med was born.

29 years later, we have a register of more than 1000 medical staff (including surgeons, physicians, nurses and allied health professionals); all ready to deploy internationally, plus a head office team of over 60.

Since we began, UK-Med’s remit has been that we treat the most vulnerable people with the highest quality of medical care, meaning we draw on NHS staff who are in active clinical practice and at the top of their game; usually for a maximum of four-week sabbaticals.

The payback for the NHS is that their staff gain extra skills and resilience when working in the field, and the experience has been proven to increase job satisfaction and retention. However, over the decades we’ve also experienced a lot of altruism.

It’s not just the medical staff who are keen to get involved. NHS managers want to help as well, re-arranging rotas to cover absences.

What we do

The three core strands of the work we do are:  

respond (to emergencies);

prepare (working with local healthcare staff to strengthen their response skills);

learn (working with academic partners to promote evidence-based practice).

Our ability to respond quickly and efficiently has made us world leaders in the field of medical aid, and we’ve responded to emergencies in more than thirty countries around the globe.

Over the last two decades, we’ve been invited to work in countries including Myanmar, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Chad, Eswatini, Ghana, Greece, Lebanon, Lesotho, Samoa, South Africa, Yemen and Zambia.

Right now, we’ve got specialist teams responding to war, disease outbreaks and environmental disasters in Malawi, Syria, Myanmar and Ukraine.

Since we began, our work has been both supported and part-funded by the UK-Government, mainly through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  

World experts

For nearly two decades UK-Med has spearheaded the growth of what is now a specialist medical field, while also ensuring international standards. Our offices being based in Manchester University means our work has always been both operational and academic.

In June 2022, we gained WHO-verified Emergency Medical Team status; meaning we are now the official providers of high-quality emergency healthcare solutions in a range of humanitarian contexts, independently and also on behalf of the UK Government and funded by UK Aid.

As the only independent Emergency Medical Team in the UK to be verified by WHO, this puts us on the frontline of the UK’s response to disasters around the world. Something that makes us very proud.

Let’s celebrate

All this week we’ll be celebrating our two decades, looking at the work we’ve done alongside our international partners, along with revealing more of UK-Med’s highlights.  

The first one of these was when we became an officially registered charity in 1995 – vital when it comes to the fundraising that as an organisation we’re going to increasingly rely on.   

If you’d like to celebrate with us, we’d love it if you’d consider donating either £4, £7 or £29 to our Birthday Appeal – helping us continue to be on-call for the world, and making the UK proud.  

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