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Scientist prepares to help tackle Ebola

14 January 2015

A microbiologist is to temporarily leave her role at Jersey General Hospital to take part in the British Army’s mission to help tackle the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

Victoria Atherton, a Lance-Corporal in the Army Reserve, whose day job is working as a Senior Biomedical Scientist in the Pathology Laboratory at the General Hospital, will fly to England later this month to prepare for mobilisation on ‘Operation Gritrock’ in Sierra Leone.

After two weeks of rigorous Army training and assessments at Chilwell in Nottingham, Victoria and colleagues from the Royal Army Medical Corps will go through a further fortnight of preparation at the Army Medical Services Training Centre at Strensall Barracks near York. This will enable them to get used to working together and fine-tuning procedures for analysing blood samples, which will be their primary focus on arrival in Sierra Leone.

“The work itself will be similar in some respects to what I’m used to in Jersey, although we will only be processing samples for a limited range of tests,” she said. “The risk levels for scientists are much lower than for nurses and others at the front-line, and the safety precautions are very thorough. It will be good to have the preparatory work under our belts and to get out there and get started.”

Colleagues' pride

Chris Sanderson, Deputy Director of Operations at the General Hospital, said staff were proud that one of their colleagues would be playing a key part in tackling Ebola.

“The staff in the Pathology Lab perform a vital role at the Hospital, but they are primarily behind the scenes and often they are not recognised for the important contribution they make to the diagnosis and treatment of patients,” he said. “Victoria will be using her skills in a different environment, but I’m confident she’ll adapt to her new surroundings and will help the British efforts to bring Ebola under control.”

First call for active service

Victoria, 46, is originally from Burton-on-Trent in England. She studied biomedical science at university and has worked in Jersey for 19 years. A Flight Lieutenant in the Jersey Air Training Corps (ATC), she is currently the Commanding Officer for the ATC, in which her husband Leighton Jenkins also serves. This will be the first time she has been called for active service since enrolling in the Army Reserve five years ago, although she has taken part in a number of exercises and training sessions.

The first British unit to take part in Operation Gritrock, made up of 16 reservists and around 100 Army regulars, set off for Sierra Leone shortly before Christmas. Victoria and her colleagues will replace this group following a short handover when they arrive in Sierra Leone in late February. Their deployment is expected to last around two months, followed by a post-mobilisation period on their return to England.

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