12 May 2021

From RAF to Covid Front Line


Duo of Manchester nurses open up about shared forces past to mark International Nurses Day

In celebration of International Nurses Day (12 May 2021), a pair of Manchester-based nurses have shared their experiences of going from serving on the military front line to the medical front line during the pandemic.

Stacey Yates and Denise Matthew – who only met for the first time three years ago, despite their Royal Air Force careers crossing over for almost a decade – both work at The Pines hospital, where Transform Hospital Group has treated hundreds of NHS patients over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The duo, who work on the wards for Transform Hospital Group, never knew each other during their RAF years, but have become friends as well as colleagues whilst working at The Pines.

And both Stacey and Denise have been bringing even more of their military medical training to the forefront, treating a host of NHS patients over the course of the pandemic.

Ward Manager Denise said: “I joined the RAF in 2004, after qualifying as a nurse and undergoing nine weeks’ basic training in military skills. I was absolutely astounded to find out that Stacey had also been in the forces at the same time as me, and then ended up working with me at The Pines – it’s like we were always meant to be friends.

“I moved around quite a bit over the years, firstly being posted to RAF Wittering and working in an NHS hospital in Peterborough where I spent five years – before moving to RAF Lyneham to the Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. I flew around the world picking up military patients and contract workers before being deployed Afghanistan in 2007, and Iraq in 2009, bringing home injured troops. You deal with a lot during deployments like this from gunshot wounds to unimaginable injuries.

“I still can’t believe Stacey and I never met when I was deployed to Afghanistan, as I was bringing injured personnel to the hospital she was working in at the time, so it’s incredible to think we never crossed paths.

“I moved to RAF Brize Norton for a while, but left in 2013 and moved to Manchester, which is my partner’s hometown. My first job here was in ambulance triage and then I joined Transform Hospital Group as a Medical Adviser in 2015.

“I’ve worked my way up the ranks the same way I did in the RAF, first to Clinic Nurse Manager and then – following my maternity leave – I started the role of Ward Manager in January 2020.

“So many of the skills you learn in the RAF are applicable on the ward, from leadership skills to making swift, correct decisions and leading your teams by example. It also makes you incredibly adaptable and able to think on your feet. It’s a very different kind of front line, but there’s a real team spirit and, at the end of the day, you’re helping patients and in the last year we’ve really had to pull together to do our bit in helping the NHS by taking on patients who would otherwise have had their surgery delayed or cancelled. It’s been a privilege to be able to help out during the pandemic.”

Stacey, who is a Ward Sister added: “It’s very clear that Denise and I were always meant to cross paths at some point, although I’m amazed it never happened earlier. Not only did our RAF careers cross over, we had plenty in common. We were sometimes based at the same location, and it’s transpired that Denise was manager to some of my friends.

“My path differed from Denise’s in that I ended up in the RAF via the Navy, which I joined as a medic at the age of 17. I moved on as my dream was to become a nurse, and it turned out I’d be able to achieve that goal with the RAF instead. I trained for three years and Birmingham University alongside practical training in hospital, and I stayed in Birmingham on a rotational programme looking after injured soldiers.

“The conflict in Afghanistan was at its peak when I qualified and I was based at The Royal Centre for Defence Medicine at Selly Oak, so I gained great experience looking after injured service personnel and even got involved in helping to organise visits to the hospital from a range of household names to help boost morale. During that time, I met Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry, Ozzy Osborne and Katherine Jenkins – but whilst I managed to meet members of the Royal family and celebrities, I never managed to meet Denise despite the fact she was escorting injured personnel into the hospital whilst I was working there.

“I left the military in 2010, initially working in private medical aesthetics and then assisting in a nursing home before joining Transform Hospital Group in June 2016 as a Ward Nurse. I was recently promoted to the role of Ward Sister after my team persuaded me to apply for the job.

“It’s more of a managerial role, but I’m very strict with ensuring I still retain an element of one-to-one patient care with at least one day of clinical work every week. Over the years I’ve enjoyed working with military and elective surgery patients – even though they’re very different there are certainly skills in common.

“That’s never been more apparent than during the past year – whilst working in partnership with the NHS, we’ve seen a very different kind of patient on the wards. Many have been older, and a number have been through surgery for breast cancer before having their reconstructive surgery with us. They’re so stoic and very appreciative of the care, as there was a point where many of them faced delays to their surgery due to the pandemic, so it’s been wonderful to do what we can to support these patients and the wider NHS during such a challenging time.”

Transform Hospital Group’s support of the NHS during the pandemic saw more than 1,800 NHS surgeries carried out that would have otherwise been cancelled.

In partnership with Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust, the team at The Pines has performed cancer-related breast reconstruction and dermatology surgeries.

In addition, Burcot Hall Hospital in Bromsgrove, also part of the leading healthcare provider’s UK-wide network, has partnered with Worcester Acute NHS Trust, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust and Wye Valley NHS Trust.