Army medics get ready for the battle to save lives in Afghanistan

At first glance, it looks like any other hospital ward.

One patient is complaining of stomach cramps and another suffering from a high fever is being carefully monitored. Elsewhere at the training centre in Strensall, near York, a group of doctors and nurses are treating the latest victim of a roadside bomb.

This time they know it's just a rehearsal, but in a few months they will be out in Afghanistan, working at the British military base in Camp Bastion where the patients and the injuries will be all too real.

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"We're getting them used to the anomalies of working in a theatre like Afghanistan," says Colonel Janet Pilgrim, a trained nurse from the regular Army's Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps who runs the Army Medical Training Centre.

"It's got to be realistic as it gets them into the training zone – there's little point in us doing this half-heartedly because it's important that they understand what they'll have to face."

The reservists are put through their paces on a multitude of illnesses and accidents and part of the centre's work also looks at what happens to the soldiers, airmen and sailors when they're discharged.

"It's the diarrhoea and vomiting and the skin disorders, or they might have malaria," says Col Pilgrim. "The soldiers still get appendicitis out there, or fall off a lorry and hurt their back.

"We feed in all those medical scenarios as well looking at what happens next. In some cases, when soldiers are discharged it may mean contacting the RAF to make sure an aircraft is available to fly them home, so we have an Air Evacuation Liaison officer and the Critical Care Support team training with the reservists.

"I don't think we can ever fully prepare them for what they might see out there, but the training certainly takes the edge off it, and gives them the confidence to be able to do

their job."

Nurse Tracey Heath is one of those who has been enrolled on the latest session. She's part of the 207 Field Hospital medical team whose members will temporarily leave their civilian day jobs in UK hospitals, medical practices and laboratories to take control of the 10m state-of-the-art hospital at Camp Bastion for three months later this year.

Five years ago she spent six months in Iraq, but she knows every new posting brings different challenges.

"I think I'll be more prepared than I was before I went to Iraq, but that's got a lot to do with the training we've done," says the 35-year-old. "Until we get out there, we don't know how we're going to feel, but you don't have as much anxiety once you've done one post."

Ministry of Defence figures show that while 158 armed forces personnel were seriously wounded in Afghanistan last year, and 1,229 were treated by field hospitals, 721 of them were suffering from diseases or non-battle injuries.

"You still have your walking wounded, and you have your strains and sprains and chest pains," explains Heath.

"There's a lot of what you normally do, but you have traumas on top. You'd be inhuman if it didn't affect you. It affects everybody, and everyone learns to deal with things in different ways."

The Bastion hospital is staffed by TA units on a three-month rotation with the regular Army, so medical services can be sustained without having an adverse impact on the NHS in the UK.

"I would go so far as to say it's a life-enhancing experience for the reservists," says Colonel Robin Jackson, a Lancaster GP who joined the TA in 1981 and who is the commanding officer of 207 Field Hospital.

"They come back feeling their life has changed for the better because they've been with a bunch of people with a common aim – to sort out the patient on the bed and patch them up. There will be times for quiet reflection afterwards, but professionalism is the key to making it work."