Our History

30 years of delivering humanitarian medical aid around the globe

The first iteration of UK-Med is set-up: SMART (1988)

UK-Med developed out of the South Manchester Accident Rescue Team (SMART).

SMART was a local medical team, acting in support of the rescue and ambulance services in Manchester. It was founded by Tony Redmond, a registered specialist in emergency medicine with a special interest in the management of severe injury, when he was working as an Accident and Emergency Consultant in busy South Manchester hospitals in the 1980s.

At the time, there was limited medical support to the ambulance service for critically ill or injured patients, particularly when they were trapped or on life support machines and needed transfer between hospitals. Paramedic training was in its infancy.

Tony recruited a team of Manchester A&E consultants and nurses to sign up to an on-call register, ready to accompany ambulances to emergencies or when transferring critically ill patients. The volunteers were able to ensure many lives that could have been lost were saved.

The beginning of our international responses (1988-1995) 

In 1988, Tony led a team of eight Manchester clinicians to Armenia, when a huge earthquake ripped through the north of the country; killing 60,000 people and destroying nearly half a million buildings. This was the charity’s very first international response, and paved the way for our future responses.

Over the next ten years, the team responded to a number of crises, including a cholera outbreak response in Cape Verde following the Pico Volcan eruption in 1995, as well as the siege of Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1992-1995). In the Sarajevo trauma centre, UK-Med organised surgical teams to work  supporting local staff in their management of war injuries.

In 1995, UK-Med was officially registered as a charity and continued its emergency responses across the world.

Earthquake hits Haiti and the EMT system is created (2010) 

On 12th January 2010, a devastating earthquake hit Haiti; taking over 200,000 lives and leaving many injured and displaced.

Members of UK-Med were deployed on behalf of DFID to respond to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. A rolling rota of over 70 surgeons, anaesthetists and emergency physicians and nurses worked in a field hospital set up to treat the injured. Over 600 major operations were carried out and over 7000 patients were treated over three and half months.

A man overlooking a tent village in Haiti.
A man overlooking a tent village in Haiti. Following the 2010 earthquake, 1.5 million people were left homeless, and many still live in tents as the country continues to recover over a decade later. Photo credit: DFID, 2010

The level of international response was generous but overwhelming and disorganised. Over 400 humanitarian groups responded and, although many were well-trained, some of the response was ad-hoc, poorly trained, ill-equipped and even dangerous. The international community was forced to re-think its response to global emergencies. Out of this tragedy, the WHO EMT initiative was born.

The EMT initiative was set up to improve coordination and ensure humanitarian responders were always professional, prepared, well-trained and fully accountable. UK-Med is the leading partner of the UK EMT (funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) and continues to answer calls for help across the world.

Ebola outbreak in West Africa (2014) 

When Ebola struck West Africa in 2014, the UK was at the forefront of the response in Sierra Leone.

UK-Med worked with DFID, the Department of Health, NHS England and international NGOs to recruit NHS volunteers to work in a number of DFID funded Ebola Treatment Centres in Sierra Leone.

UK-Med recruited and trained the one hundred and fifty UK clinicians who worked alongside local medical teams, other NGOs and DfID to bring the outbreak under control.

David Wightwick becomes CEO (2018) 

Tony become Chair of Trustees in January 2018, handing the baton of CEO to David Wightwick. David has an extensive background in senior roles in the humanitarian sector, having previously worked in emergency response with WHO, Merlin, GOAL, Save the Children International and IMC.

Over the past few years, UK-Med has expanded its programs to include a focus on capacity-building and disaster preparation, as well as its traditional disaster response program.

David in Beira, Mozambique, following Cyclone Idai in 2019. Credit: WHO_NIEUWENHOF

COVID-19 pandemic

With COVID-19 affecting every corner of the world in 2020, UK-Med  answered more calls than ever before as healthcare systems around the world (including the UK’s) found themselves overwhelmed with the crisis. In 2020, we worked in thirteen countries – from war-torn Yemen’s damaged hospitals to refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – and our support reached tens of thousands of patients.

With the UK’s own health service under increased demand as a result of the pandemic, we had to pivot rapidly to accommodate different ways of working.

Our Head Office moved to remote working – including our training sessions – and we began recruiting internationally as well as nationally; enriching our team and member Register with additional experience and expertise.

The pandemic and increased demand for humanitarian support across the world saw UK-Med’s work expand enormously. In 2021 alone, UK-Med worked in 18 countries across the world.

The Ukrainian conflict worsens. UK-Med is verified as an independent EMT (2022)

On 24 February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine: kickstarting a mass migration where millions of Ukrainians fled their homes and travelled long distances without food, water, or access to healthcare.

UK-Med have been on the ground since 1 March, providing direct medical care, training and support. Ukraine has been our biggest emergency response to date, with over 100 doctors, nurses, surgeons, and paramedics sent to provide life-saving medical aid.

In June 2022, after a nearly two-year process, UK-Med was certified by the World Health Organization as an independent EMT – the first for a UK-based charity.

Emergency Medical Teams are often the first responders when a disaster or outbreak hits. As the number of conflicts, disasters and emergencies continue to rise around the world, this verification ensures UK-Med can be there when disaster strikes: taking the best of the NHS and UK healthcare across the world.

Learn more about UK-Med today