CAMBS: Addenbrooke’s Hospital nurse who is on call to save the world

Deborah Swann, an emergency nurse practitioner at Addenbrooke’s, who is the only nurse in the UK Int

Deborah Swann, an emergency nurse practitioner at Addenbrooke’s, who is the only nurse in the UK International Search and Rescue team. - Credit: Archant

WHAT a difference six hours can make. Deborah Swann could be relaxing at home and within six hours will be on a plane, heading to an international crisis to help save lives.

The 38-year-old nurse is on call as a member of the UK’s International Search and Rescue Team (ISAR).

Miss Swann, of Rectory Road, Bluntisham, is the only nurse on the team, which has six hours to get on a plane should the UK decide to send help to a disaster area – previous missions have seen teams sent to the 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch and Fukoshima.

The team is made up of five doctors, three paramedics and Miss Swann.

As a trained expedition medic, if deployed Miss Swann’s role will be to not only treat those rescued but also to look after the health of the rescue team – and even the rescue dogs.

The emergency medic at Addenbrooke’s Hospital was approached by ISAR last year to attend a selection event and, following her success in ­September, she has been trained at RAF Waddington, in Lincolnshire, but is still awaiting her first mission.

Miss Swann, however, has just returned this month from her second tour of Mongolia, providing medical support to riders in the Mongol Derby, a 1,000km horse race recognised as one of the toughest in the world.

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But she said she is more than ready if she is called upon to help.

“We simulated rescuing and treating people at heights, in flood waters and confined spaces, all of which are expected following disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and terrorist attacks,” she said.

“It is genuinely dangerous. We’re crawling around in potentially unsafe structures in places at risk of other unpredictable trauma – aftershocks, for example.

“It definitely appeals to my sense of adventure, and the challenge of having to improvise with minimal equipment in such an austere environment is something I have to be ready for.

“My priority is the safety and well-being of the rescue and medical teams.

“Everyone has a pre-deployment health check, including the rescue dogs, who are incredibly valuable to the team, as they do most of the searching.”

Back in the emergency department in Cambridge, Miss Swann hopes to begin incorporating some of her training to help those affected by major trauma.

“My role is autonomous, in that additional training gives me the ability to assess, diagnose, treat and discharge a patient without them having to see a doctor.

“This is invaluable to the other work that I do.”

INFORMATION: For more information on search and rescue, visit