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Partnership with British National Health Service helps Lakenheath surgeons maintain readiness

The 48th Medical Group, based at RAF Lakenheath in the U.K., maintains partnerships with three hospitals in the British National Health System. These partnerships allow 48th MDG medical staff to maintain readiness and currency in surgical techniques seen less frequently at Lakenheath, especially trauma care similar to battlefield medicine.

The 48th Medical Group, based at RAF Lakenheath in the U.K., maintains partnerships with three hospitals in the British National Health System. These partnerships allow 48th MDG medical staff to maintain readiness and currency in surgical techniques seen less frequently at Lakenheath, especially trauma care similar to battlefield medicine.

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- There are 76 Air Force-led military treatment facilities around the world, and one of their primary missions is to train medical Airmen and sustain the medical skills they need for deployment. However, many MTFs do not have enough volume of trauma and specialty surgery cases for surgical teams to maintain medical readiness.
 

To solve this challenge, the Air Force Medical System partners with outside hospitals to let Airmen treat more complex cases. The 48th Medical Group, based at Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath near Brandon, England, has a partnership with three local hospitals in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.

“We are very fortunate to have such a strong partnership with these NHS hospitals,” said Col. Bradley Nielsen, Deputy Medical Group Commander. “Partnerships like this are critical to sustaining readiness for medical Airmen and to maintain currency in their specialties.  Keeping our Airmen local means lower costs, plus spending less time away from families improves morale during their training.”

Lakenheath surgeons provide care in several specialties at the NHS hospitals, including trauma cases, general surgery, ear nose and throat care, urology and orthopedic surgery. These advanced surgical cases are a valuable opportunity for Lakenheath-based Airmen.

“At the NHS facilities, our general surgeons are able to see far more complicated surgeries than they would at our MTF,” said Col Nielsen. “At RAF Lakenheath, we mostly perform less intensive inpatient surgeries, like laparoscopic and same-day surgeries that do not prepare staff for the type of trauma cases seen in the deployed environment. Our partnerships are critical to maintain ready deployable medical providers.”

Part of the success of the partnership stems from relationships between Air Force Surgeons and their counterpart in the British Ministry of Defence, who understand that the to preserve readiness skills and experience. This partnership is especially critical for RAF Lakenheath because of the lack of complex cases seen in the facility, and the relative isolation from other U.S. installations and medical institutions.

The three NHS hospitals currently engaged in the partnership are Norfolk Norwich University Hospital, Cambridge University Hospital, and West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust Hospital.

“We are lucky to be stationed in a country that speaks the same language as we do,” said Nielsen. “Other places in Europe may have a harder time integrating into local hospitals because of the language barrier. We have found that not only are we sustaining currency in valuable surgical skills, we are building valuable contacts with our medical and military partners.”

The Lakenheath partnership has great value for both parties,

“Our surgeons are sharing U.S. surgical techniques with our U.K. hosts, and we are learning from them as well,” said Nielsen. “One of our urologists is an expert in utilizing robotics during surgery, and he was able to help train some of our partner urologists on how to use their new surgical assistant tools.” 

RAF Lakenheath is also exploring opportunities to expand this partnership to other hospitals in the U.K., particularly some larger facilities in London. This would allow Airmen to treat a higher volume of cases similar to injuries they will see when deployed.

“We are looking to build on this success to expand this opportunity for other regional Airmen and even other service personnel stationed elsewhere in Europe,” said Nielsen. “Opening the partnership to other larger hospitals and new specialties will help close the currency gap for the medical and nursing staff and will strengthen the relationship with a key ally.”