"The Wigan-Falklands link has huge benefits"

Dr Rebecca Edwards
Dr Rebecca Edwards

Nearly 8,000 miles stand between Wigan’s hospitals and their newest partner – but already close bonds are forming.

Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust is forming links with King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in Stanley, in the Falkland Islands.

It follows 14-year-old Falkland Islander Shaun East travelling all the way to Wrightington Hospital for surgery after breaking his collarbone in four places.

It is not just the latitude of the two hospitals that sets them apart – life could not be more different in Wigan and Stanley.

Dr Rebecca Edwards, chief medical officer for the Falklands, recently visited Wigan’s hospital to meet staff, find out more about the work done and to discuss the new partnership.

She trained as a GP and lives in the Falklands with her four children and her husband, who is a farmer with 40,000 sheep.

King Edward VII is the only hospital serving the island’s residents and has just 28 beds.

Dr Edwards described it as “a busy little hospital” which does everything the patients need.

Speaking during a visit to Wrightington Hospital, she said: “It’s not always full. We do everything from cradle to grave. We will deliver babies and provide palliative care and thrombolyse MIs and manage trauma, as well as complex medical cases.

“We provide up to a certain level of care on the island, but if we need to evacuate someone they might go to Chile. If something is very time critical, we will use the RAF aeroplane to Uruguay.

“Our elective cases will come to the UK to be seen by the NHS. We have a reciprocal agreement so all British citizens get free care in the Falklands and Falkland Islanders can here.”

Dr Edwards said it was “a very interesting place to work” but could be “challenging” as specialists were so far away and patients sometimes needed to fly to another country.

She said: “We will have patients treated in the UK often. There are only 3,000 locals so it’s not as if there are lots and lots of people here all the time, but we try to run the same quality and standard of service as the NHS.

“If there are some options for treatment available to someone and they are willing to travel to the UK, we will try to facilitate that.”

The Falklands’ hospital already has informal links to other medical professionals in the UK and around the world, but it is hoped this new initiative will be more formal.

Because the Falkland Islands are so spread out, there is also a flying doctor service where a GP flies out on an aeroplane to hold remote clinics.

Dr Edwards said: “It’s interesting work. It’s a challenge but it is lovely.”

“This is a centre of excellence here at Wrightington, so it’s about as far away as you can get – not that we are not excellent, but we are not a specialist centre.

“The facilities here are phenomenal. The new, modern building is state-of-the-art stuff. It’s quite overwhelming.

“The throughput of patients operated on a daily basis is amazing.”

Dr Edwards also visited Wigan Infirmary and said she was “overwhelmed with the positive response” to the partnership between the two countries.

Although she did not have chance to see a lot of the borough during her visit, she was impressed with what she saw.

Dr Edwards said: “You tend to think of this part of Great Britain being really urban and full up with industry but

actually we are surrounded by beautiful fields.

“Everyone is so friendly. Everyone says hello and is really nice. It must be northern hospitality.”

Before heading back to RAF Brize Norton for her flight home, Dr Edwards had plans to visit to Wigan town centre and do two things no trip to the borough would be complete without – buying Wigan Warriors shirts for her family and sampling a pie!

Rebecca Lyon, divisional director of operations at Wrightington Hospital, visited the Falkland Islands in August as part of the new arrangement.

She said: “It was a fantastic experience. It’s obviously a very long way, a very long flight, but from looking out of the aeroplane window and seeing the first sight as I came in, I certainly knew I had never been anywhere like that before.

“Everyone there was very welcoming and helpful to me.”

She was impressed with what she found when she visited King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

She said: “For me, their hospital is the blueprint that we would want in any community that does all your cradle to grave stuff there.”

Mrs Lyon noted that whereas staff in Wigan were “very specialised”, those in Stanley were “very generalised” and could help patients in all areas of the hospital.

“It was that skill-set that they had that was very different. I would imagine as a workforce it’s more beneficial for that flexibility. If we could do that, it would be fantastic,” she said.

Her vague memories of the Falklands War as a child also made it an emotional trip.

Mrs Lyon said: “I was 16 when it the Falklands conflict, so I must admit I didn’t really know where it was until that point.

“To visit somewhere that has been through that conflict and understand the images I have got, that I saw on the news at the time, and relate it to the country and speak to people who were that at that time and to hear their stories of how it affected them was very moving.

“I felt that the people I spoke to, everybody was fiercely patriotic.”

An orthopaedic surgeon from Wrightington Hospital will visit the Falklands next month as the partnership develops.