Last year, senior Audiologist Wendy Davies had planned another visit to the Falkland Islands but it was cancelled by COVID and although some restrictions are still in place, she was able to make the 8,700-mile journey in January this year. After a bit of a false start, Wendy talks about her visit:
“On 9th January, I made my way to RAF Brize Norton to catch the flight to Mount Pleasant Airport which is the RAF station in the Falkland’s. I had checked in; I had my boarding card in one hand and a coffee in the other when the announcement came that the flight was delayed by 24 hours. The following evening, I again left home and headed to Brize Norton. This time everything went smoothly and just after 1.30am we were airborne and heading for our refuelling point in Dakar, Senegal. After a change of crew, we once more took flight for the 10.5-hour second leg down to Mount Pleasant.
The Falklands are COVID free, so they were very keen to prevent anyone on the flight bringing the disease into the country. Everyone arriving needs to quarantine for between 5 and 10 days and the Falkland Island Government have made quarantine houses available to residents to enable them to isolate away from their families. There is an exemption to the full quarantine for those of us arriving as visiting clinicians allowing us to carry out our work at the King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEMH). We were swabbed for covid on arrival at our hotel and once a negative result was gained, we were permitted to leave the hotel but only to walk the short distance to the hospital and were required to return to our hotel room immediately after work. We were regularly tested for 5 days after which we were free to leave the hotel as we wished and able to explore.
The objective for my visit was to provide Audiology services to the Falklands Islands population. At just over 3,500 people, the population of the Islands is too small to warrant a full-time audiologist. The Speech & Language Therapy team (SALT) look after all things Audiology day-to-day with support from an Audiologist in the UK, which is currently me, and a two-week annual visit by the UK Audiologist.
As with the UK NHS Hospitals, KEMH offers healthcare to the population which is free at the point of delivery. It has 29 beds, including 18 acute beds, a maternity bed, isolation unit, intensive care unit and seven long-stay beds for older people.
The Audiology service purchases one of the same hearing aid models as those provided by NHS Audiology. It can take up to 3 months for parcels of hearing aids and accessories to reach KEMH therefore, the hearing aids required for the visit were posted by the manufacturer to Help in Hearing and packed into my suitcase to travel with me on the flight.
The clinics began the morning after I arrived and were very busy. The SALT team worked with me in the clinics, and we soon developed a smooth-running system.
Our patients were a mix of those attending for their very first hearing aid to others returning for some fine tuning or more hearing tests. Overall, we saw close to 100 patients during my visit. Due to the synergies in specialties, an ENT Consultant visits at the same time as the audiologist so that patients can be referred as required between ENT and Audiology to receive a diagnosis and any intervention during the visit.
At the weekend I was invited to join some of the KEMH team on a whale watching boat trip. Despite being summer in the Falklands, the weather was generally very windy and cold, but we were very lucky to have a calm day for our outing. The trip did not disappoint, and we spotted two humpback whales, a few dolphins and lots of penguins.
The following day I trekked out to Yorke Bay to see some more penguins. This beautiful beach has only been cleared of land mines in the last few years, so the King and Gentoo penguins have been used to having the place to themselves. Despite this they were very happy for me to sit close by while I ate my lunch.
For my final day in clinic, the SALT team and I discussed how the visit had gone and how we could improve things for next year before packing up the repairs and impressions that I needed to bring back to the UK. Each year, we try to grow the service further and I am very proud of the developments I have helped make over the last 20 years or so of working with the Falkland Islands.
All too soon, it was time to head home, and the bus arrived bright and early Tuesday morning to take us to Mount Pleasant for the return journey. We have already discussed next years visit and all being well, I will be Falklands bound again in January 23.” Well done Wendy and good luck for next time!