UK-Med register member, Iain Lennon is an Emergency Medicine Consultant with 23 years-experience and works at The Royal Derby Hospital.
In 2017, Iain responded as part of the UK Emergency Medical Team, to a diphtheria outbreak in the Rohingya refugee camp at Cox Bazaar on Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar. In October 2021, he flew to Malawi’s capital city of Lilongwe to support the country’s fight against COVID-19.
Iain reflects on how his two very different response experiences; treating patients in Bangladesh, and assessing hospital capacity, reviewing COVID-19 guidelines, and delivering training in oxygen therapy in Malawi, have enabled him to bring a range of skills and experiences back to his Emergency Department in Derby:
When COVID first hit, I remember going out into the hospital car park (before the days of the drive-through COVID test) and mentoring one of our clinical practitioners in how to swab patients safely.
Having been part of a diphtheria outbreak response in Bangladesh, where we’d been wearing gowns, googles and gloves for three weeks flat, I’d gained the familiarity and comfort of working in PPE all day, way before anyone else in my department.
After working alongside a local medical charity Samaritans Purse in Cox Bazar, Bangladesh to treat a two-year old girl who had succumbed to advanced diphtheria and sadly died I vividly remember the effect on the whole team that day, and how as a group their de-brief was to say a prayer.
I’ve tried to take this idea without the religious connotations back to the Royal Derby Hospital; and if there’s a significant event will try to gather the team to take a moment, away from the ‘shop floor’ to reflect and acknowledge what has just happened and pay our respects to the patient.
In Bangladesh, it was really positive to witness how flexible and willing staff were to help. Patient transfer seemed much easier. If they could do it, it would happen.
If someone comes to me with a problem from a different hospital department, I think I’m much more likely to try and help now, even if it’s not my job or I don’t know the answer.
The ability to step out of the day-to-day of my NHS role into a very different setting has helped me to look at my day job and see where we perhaps take things for granted, like equipment or availability of specialists. By reviewing Malawi’s COVID-19 guidelines, for example, I became much more aware of oxygen. It made me more of an oxygen champion.
The problem-solving mindset that you develop helps you to see that for some apparently intractable problems, there may be a different solution. I’m thinking mainly of using oxygen concentrators in Derby, in an area where we have been using oxygen cylinders. We have similar problems as they had in Malawi – cost and having to have a second cylinder ready to switch to – with possibly the same solution!
Problem solving is always a useful skill to have, but in the NHS sometimes it feels like we may have tried everything: this is a reminder that perhaps there is still something else we can do.
“The problem-solving mindset that you develop helps you to see that for some apparently intractable problems, there may be a different solution.”