Blood from British sailors is being used for the first time to fight the deadly Ebola virus in Sierra Leone.
Two Royal Navy nurses – Chief Petty Officer (Naval Nurse) Mark ‘Robbie’ Robinson and Petty Officer (Naval Nurse) Mark Bailey – set up a volunteer emergency blood donor panel onboard Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Argus off the West Coast of Africa.
The panel was established in preparation for Apheresis at Sea; apheresis being the process of removing whole blood from a donor, separating the blood into its individual components so that one of them – in this case the platelets – can be removed.
The rest of the blood is then given back to the donor while the platelets are stored on the ship and some flown to the Kerry Town Treatment Unit near Freetown.
Both nurses previously performed the procedure in Afghanistan but this is the first time that blood products have ever been donated on an operational Royal Naval Service ship.
CPONN Robinson said: “Setting up the initial emergency donor panel, though challenging, has been a great experience.
“Personnel have been enthusiastic in coming forward to donate their platelets, which has helped make this an easier process to set up.”
Platelets are essential for patients to be able to form blood clots and prevent uncontrolled bleeding in trauma cases.
Lessons learned from Afghanistan demonstrated platelet infusions, alongside infusions of red blood cells, played a critical role in the resuscitation of major haemorrhage leading to improved survival rates.
Platelets only remain viable for a few days so it is logistically difficult to fly supplies from the UK.
Ebola is a viral haemorrhagic fever and on Operation Gritrock platelet infusions are also being used in an attempt to reduce bleeding sometimes seen in Ebola patients.
RFA Argus left Falmouth in October, carrying 820 Naval Air Squadron, Royal Marines from 539 Assault Squadron and 42 Commando, together with medical staff manning the Primary Casualty Receiving Facility (PCRF).
The PCRF onboard Argus has up to 100 hospital beds but for Gritrock it offers a 15-bed facility to care for casualties with either non-Ebola-related illness or injuries among the UK military personnel and other entitled multi-national personnel.
Stringent quality-control measures are adhered to before any blood product is considered safe. Once deemed safe to use by the PCRF’s biomedical scientists Warrant Officer (Medical Technician) Jim Robinson and RAF Corporal Kelly Wooton, the platelets are added to the PCRF’s blood bank.
Royal Marines Band Service Musician and PCRF assistant Christopher Brisley was the first aboard to donate and now two apheresis sessions are held every week.
Ebola has claimed the lives of nearly 9,000 people in West Africa, according to the World Health Organisation, with more than 3,000 deaths in Sierra Leone.