‘It’s so heartbreaking’ - Norfolk ambulance worker tells of volunteer mission to fight Ebola in West Africa

Thorpe Marriott paramedic Pete Simpson spent five weeks in the Ebola command centre in Freetown, Sie

Thorpe Marriott paramedic Pete Simpson spent five weeks in the Ebola command centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone. - Credit: Archant

A Norfolk lifesaver has told of the 'heartbreaking' scenes he witnessed in West Africa, after returning from a mission to fight Ebola.

Thorpe Marriott paramedic Pete Simpson spent five weeks in the Ebola command centre in Freetown, Sie

Thorpe Marriott paramedic Pete Simpson spent five weeks in the Ebola command centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone. - Credit: Archant

Pete Simpson, of Thorpe Marriott, jetted back from a five-week volunteering effort in Sierra Leone this month.

The 51-year-old ambulance worker had been based in Freetown to help run the capital's Ebola command centre, and said the sights he saw were 'distressing'.

He described ambulance crews so under-funded that they could not afford water to wash their vehicles, hospitals so packed that patients were dying outside in the dirt and exhausted medics desperate for more support.

Mr Simpson was working with the Connaught Hospital, which was under such great pressure that triage tents were set up outside - with some people dying before they set foot in the hospital.

Thorpe Marriott paramedic Pete Simpson spent five weeks in the Ebola command centre in Freetown, Sie

Thorpe Marriott paramedic Pete Simpson spent five weeks in the Ebola command centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone. - Credit: Archant


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'It's so heart-breaking,' said Mr Simpson. 'Those people end their days lying in dirt outside a hospital.

'It's not the hospital's fault - they don't have the room.

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'The staff are working flat out and just look exhausted.'

The father-of-three fears the Ebola outbreak could be far worse than records show, as he believed data-gathering systems were flawed.

And he is writing a 'plan B' to send to the government of Sierra Leone, as he said the current approach was not working.

He is also calling on governments around the world to recognise the scale of the problem, and send more support.

'Most of the problems they had were down to a dire lack of funding,' said Mr Simpson. 'There was no money to repair the ambulances, or buy water to wash them.

'Two of the crew had sadly died of ebola before I got there.

'The ambulances were filthy.'

He said some of the crew had very little training, and the fire station he was based had no access to toilets or water.

The ambulance service only worked from 8am to 6pm daily, with no cover overnight.

His planned duties in Sierra Leone had included coordinating ambulances, tracking bed capacity, and training local health staff, said his family were concerned, but proud of his volunteering mission.

But Mr Simpson found himself drawn into more of a political role.

'Most of my time was going into meetings to try to find financial backers,' he explained. 'They need more doctors and nurses.

'That country is desperate for qualified doctors and nurses and lab technicians.

'It was just utter frustration.

'We need to stop the spread, and the government have got to get their heads round it.

'They need to train more people.'

The clinical operations manager for the ambulance service in Hellesdon was working with the King's Sierra Leone Partnership, with King's College Hospital in London.

He admitted that being in the frontline in the fight against Ebola was 'scary', but that you could stay safe if you followed protocols.

Explaining why he went to help, he said: 'It's just seeing it on the news every night and thinking you can go and do some good over there.'

He returned to the UK on December 1 and is back performing duties for the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST), but was not allowed to carry out patient-facing duties for 21 days as a precaution.

He remains in contact with ambulance crews in Sierra Leone, and is hoping to return in Spring, and again if a vaccine is developed.

Mr Simpson is responsible for the training of hundreds of front-line staff at EEAST.

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