We’re proud to announce that UK-Med member Becky Platt received the Medallist of the Order of the British Empire (BEM) award in the 2021 New Year Honours for Services to Humanitarian Response.
Becky is an Advanced Clinical Practitioner at the Royal London Hospital, with more than 23 years’ nursing experience. She was a key team member in the UK Emergency Medical Team’s response to the diphtheria outbreak in Bangladesh in 2017 and the measles outbreak in Samoa in 2019.
Earlier this month, we spoke to Becky about her experience with UK-Med in Samoa, the impact it has had on her work in the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic, and what it was like to receive the BEM.
Treating measles in Samoa
When Becky arrived in Samoa in December 2019, the gravity of the measles epidemic was evident immediately.
“Those were some of the sickest kids that I’d ever seen in over 20 years of nursing,” she says. “We were seeing incredibly sick children in large numbers, day after day. A lot of people hadn’t seen measles to that extent, and many think it is just a rash, but the complications of measles were quite astonishing.”
The UK-EMT team worked closely with the local Samoan team and Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT). Initially, the team worked in the high dependency unit (HDU) facility and emergency department, before setting up an additional HDU tent.
Becky describes the teamwork as “absolutely brilliant. In Bangladesh and Samoa, I was just so impressed with the ability of the team to just hit the ground running and just get on with whatever the situation threw at us.”
Transferring skills to the NHS
Managing emergencies when resources are limited, staying calm under pressure and recognising the value of teamwork are skills that have benefited Becky’s work in the UK too. And they’ve been even more pivotal with the pressures the COVID-19 pandemic has put on the NHS over the past year.
“It gives you the ability to be flexible, to respond to needs fairly quickly, to recognise that what’s a really good plan for today might not be a plan for tomorrow,” Becky explains.
“I think anyone who has those skills has really benefited this last year because most of the people I’ve worked with just haven’t seen the scale that we’ve had since March. We were seeing that pretty much every day in Samoa.”
An emergency at home
While on deployment, Becky notes that there is often a separation between the medical emergency that the team is responding to, and their normal lives. However, coronavirus has blurred these lines and brought these challenges closer to home, making the past year even more uniquely difficult.
“This year, we’ve had to manage many of the stresses that we would have on deployment, but also the additional stuff and knowing that our families and loved ones are at risk at the same time,” Becky explains.
“All the things that you usually do to sort of rejuvenate ourselves – even just seeing friends and family – hasn’t been able to happen. Going into this third wave, when the team’s completely up against it, is really hard.”
A year of unknowns and uncertainty
Becky reflects, “It’s been a year of unknowns and uncertainty, hasn’t it? And I think a year of hoping we’re going to come out of this relatively unscathed and that the people that we love will do the same.
“Seeing colleagues under a huge amount of pressure – both professionally and personally – managing to keep it together and maintain their sense of humour has been hugely inspiring. But it’s also worrying because you wonder how much longer people can sustain that.”
Looking back at the year, Becky considers one positive from the experience has been the team bonding that has happened between colleagues, particularly as it’s become harder to see friends and family.
“In many ways, I think, if you work in a sort of high-stress area, you are well bonded with your team because that’s what gets you through the day.”
Part of the team
Among the difficulties of the past year, one bright spot for Becky was being awarded the British Empire Medal award in the 2021 New Year Honours for her humanitarian work.
The honours system marks the achievements and service of extraordinary people across the UK, and Becky will receive her medal at Buckingham Palace, once physical distancing protocols allow it.
“Honestly, it’s been so exciting, I’ve had some lovely messages from people,” Becky says. “I feel hugely honoured and it’s been absolutely amazing, but I don’t want my individual accomplishment to take away from what was is actually a team thing.
“I was part of a team on both of those occasions… So, I hope that this does some good for the team, rather than just something as an individual.
“I’ve been, not exactly fretting about that, but my husband says, ‘oh for god’s sake, you always find something to worry about’. I think I just want it to feel like a team thing!”
UK-Med is fortunate to have many members like Becky who have the skills and expertise to deliver first-class emergency medical care globally. Read more from our members.