Ambulance service welcomes Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal

The outstanding contribution of ambulance staff was recognised today when North East Ambulance Service welcomed Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal to its Hebburn base.

The visit had originally been planned last year to mark the 10th anniversary of its Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) and the region’s NHS 111 service but was, understandably, put on hold due to the pandemic.

Her Royal Highness will also present the Ambulance Service (Emergency Duties) Long Service and Good Conduct Medal to 14 frontline ambulance staff who, between them, have more than 285 years of frontline emergency service.

HART is a specialist team of paramedics who are trained to provide life-saving medical care to patients in hazardous environments, which would otherwise be deemed too dangerous for a paramedic to enter, such as a collapsed building or firearms incident.

HART paramedics work alongside the police and fire and rescue services within what is known as the ‘inner cordon’ – or ‘hot zone’ – of a major incident. Their job is to triage and treat casualties and to help save more lives during the early stages of a major incident.

Since launching in March 2010, the NEAS team has attended more than 19,000 incidents, working alongside their ambulance and other emergency service colleagues at the centre of serious accidents or threats to public health in order to keep the region’s residents safe.

Between them, the 43 paramedics working in the NEAS HART team have over 650 years’ clinical experience. 

That same year saw NEAS also trial the NHS 111 service in the North East.

The NHS 111 service, which is still operated by NEAS using dual trained 999 and 111 health advisors, is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, offering a multi-skilled team of advisors and experienced clinicians, who assess a patient’s symptoms before directing them to the most appropriate help.

In 2020/21 NEAS answered more than 1.3m emergency 999 and NHS 111 calls, with more than 260,000 patients taken to hospital, more than 34,000 patients treated and discharged over the phone and more than 125,000 patients treated and discharged at home.

Her Royal Highness watched a live demonstration of the Hazardous Area Response Team’s response to a terrorist incident before meeting some of the ambulance staff based at Hebburn and witnessing first-hand the contribution made by some of the region’s 999 and 111 health advisors in keeping the region safe. The visit ended with the Ambulance Service (Emergency Duties) Long Service and Good Conduct Medal presentation ceremony.

The Ambulance Service (Emergency Duties) Long Service and Good Conduct Medal is designed for emergency ambulance staff who have worked on the frontline for more than 20 years.

The medals are issued under Royal Warrant and are therefore usually presented to NEAS staff by Her Majesty’s representative, Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, Mrs Susan Winfield, OBE. This is the first time that a member of The Royal Family has presented the medals to NEAS staff directly.

NEAS Chief Executive Helen Ray said: “We were incredibly honoured to welcome Her Royal Highness to our service to mark the outstanding contribution our teams have made to the North East.

“The last year has been extremely challenging for us all. I’m so very proud of the contribution all our teams have made to keep the North East public safe and today we especially recognise the huge contribution that our HART and 111 colleagues have made.

“We feel particularly privileged to be able to combine our Queen’s Medal presentation with this visit. Our staff are quite rightly very proud to wear the crown badge on their uniform and we are honoured that Her Royal Highness agreed as part of her visit to bestow the medals this year.”

Simon Swallow, Strategic Head of Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response, was instrumental in the establishment of Hazardous Area Response Teams nationally and led on the COVID-19 response for NEAS, working alongside partners across the region.

“This was a fantastic opportunity to showcase the great work our teams do, particularly in relation to the COVID response, pass on some knowledge and understanding about what we do, and to see them thanked at the very highest level for their hard work,” he said.

The Lord-Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, Mrs Susan Winfield, said: “Every year it gives me great pleasure to meet the men and women who have given so much to our region over their years of service to present them with their Queen’s Medal. I can only imagine how hard the last year has been for all those working for our health and emergency services and I was delighted to welcome Her Royal Highness to such an outstanding facility and introduce her to some of the teams helping to keep our region safe.” 

The Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Pat Hay said: “It was a real honour to welcome Her Royal Highness to our wonderful Borough to meet our incredible ambulance workers.

“These amazing highly skilled paramedics are right on the frontline risking their own lives to save others every day in some of the most hazardous and crucial moments of an emergency. Our valuable NHS 111 service also continues to be at the forefront of our healthcare services, keeping people safe and supporting them to get the help they need. This service has never been more important than over these challenging past 18 months.

“They are all unsung heroes and it is wonderful to see them recognised for their long service in this way, with a prestigious awards ceremony in the presence of royalty."

About HART:

HART units are based in each of England’s ten NHS Ambulance Trusts, which means they can cover the whole of the country, in some cases working together on specific, large scale or high-profile incidents, either accidental or deliberately caused.

At NEAS, HART sits within the Trust’s Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response department, which is responsible for ensuring NEAS is prepared for critical, significant, hazardous and major incidents, and that events within the North East region are adequately resourced and managed from a medical perspective.

The department provides and co-ordinates training and exercising for staff to deal with hazardous incidents, such as mass casualty training, and ensures the Trust can maintain a core service when faced with such an event.

It also works with the region’s Strategic Resilience Groups, Local Resilience Forums and Health Resilience Partnerships to ensure regional resilience, partnership working, shared learning and training to ensure the focus is on local risks and weaknesses.

As well as having a ‘live’ team ready to respond to incidents 24 hours a day, a training team is also on shift through the week, taking part in emergency exercises to ensure each paramedic can keep up the 188 core competencies expected of them to be able to do their job.

It has been instrumental in the fight against COVID-19, which has included:

  • Transporting the country’s first COVID positive patient to the Royal Victoria Infirmary
  • Running a NEAS swabbing service to ensure ambulance staff and their families had fast access to testing
  • Supporting the region’s vaccination centres, as well as running several internal vaccination clinics

Over the last 10 years, the NEAS team has also responded to:

  • More than 30 incidents involving infectious diseases, including Ebola and COVID19
  • More than 5,500 incidents involving hazardous materials, such as chemical accidents and fires
  • More than 900 water rescues
  • Nearly 800 security incidents, including firearms operations, live incidents such as the Raoul Moat manhunt in 2010, and support to security and public order operations like protests
  • More than 700 incidents in a confined space, requiring specialist equipment to reach the patient
  • More than 2,000 incidents at height, such as cliffs or bridges
  • More than 2,500 incidents involving unstable terrain, such as collapsed structures
  • Nearly 6,000 operational incidents, providing additional clinical support to frontline ambulance crews

It has also supported large-scale national incidents, including Grenfell and the Novichok poisoning in Salisbury.


Ambulance Service (Emergency Duties) Long Service and Good Conduct Medal recipients:

Andrew Holmes, Bedlington

Andrew joined what was then Northumbria Ambulance Service in 1997, aged 19, in the patient transport side of the service, before moving onto emergency care as an advanced technician. He is now a clinical care manager, supporting frontline staff within the Backworth cluster, covering Sandyford, Wallsend, Backworth, Hawkeys Lane, and Debdon Gardens.


He said: “From the age of 11, I always wanted to be an ‘ambulance man’ and I enjoy it as much now as I always have.  I feel very privileged and proud to work in a role that I get to be involved in and witness things that very few people get to see or do. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, in your time of need you will call for a paramedic. It’s a real privilege.”

Clare Louisa Graham, Sunderland

Clare’s ambulance career began on patient transport in October 1995. She is now a clinical care manager, looking after frontline staff within the Pallion cluster, covering Pallion, Rainton Bridge, and South Shields.

Clare met her husband Dave whilst working in the service, and he will be in a unique position to be one of the ceremonial staff supporting Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal to present his wife with her Queen’s Medal. Between them, they have three children.

One of the highlights of Clare’s career was being named ‘senior manager of the year’ at the NEAS staff awards in 2016, having been humbled by the number of nominations she received.   She also felt privileged to have the opportunity to work on the national COVID vaccination program at various sites including the regional Nightingale Hospital.  

She said: “I feel proud to work for the service as I just know what a difference we make to the people of the North East of England as a small team but part of the wider, great NHS.”

Gail and Jonathon Soppitt, Lemington

Gail joined the ambulance service in 1995, initially on patient transport before moving into the PTS liaison office. She started her advanced technician training in 1999 and qualified as a paramedic in 2004. She is now a clinical care manager, supporting frontline staff within the Blucher cluster, covering Blucher, Hexham, Haltwhistle, Bellingham and Central stations.

 “I have so many memories from my career, far too many to mention,” she said. “I have met and worked alongside some amazing people, saved lives, delivered babies, and have even worked a couple of shifts on the helicopter. I have been lucky to have done so much and I wouldn’t change a thing. 

“I am still so proud of working for NEAS, being able to help people when needed the most is a privilege. I still enjoy coming to work, and through my role as a CCM I am able to support staff when they need it the most too. I am lucky as I have the best job in the world doing what I love and every day is different.”

Husband Jonathan will also be receiving his medal alongside his wife. Having met during their technician training, in 1999 and becoming firm friends and colleagues, they have now been married for nearly 13 years and have three children together.

Like his wife, Jonathan – or Jon as he prefers to be called – began his career in patient transport in 1995 before starting his technician training alongside Gail. He is now a clinical operations manager, based at Pallion.

He said: “Over the last 27 years I have seen many changes within the Trust and the demand on the service has grown every year but what impresses me is the way our staff work together to provide the best level of care they can. This pandemic has proven that, even with unprecedented challenges of wearing cumbersome PPE, the ever-changing guidance and updates, that NEAS staff will still come together to get the job done. That is what makes me proud.”

Gail added: “The kids are so proud of what their parents do and this has instilled being a hard worker when they see their mam and dad working long hours but come home still smiling.”

John Barnfather, Wideopen

John joined Hebburn ambulance station in 1990 on patient transport before progressing on to become one the first advanced technicians in the service in 1995. He worked at South Shields station for 25 years up until retiring in 2014, and returned to work part-time at Ryhope station, mentoring some of the new technicians coming through. He now works part-time at Wideopen station and plans to retire fully on his 66th birthday in three years.

He said: “I have had some memorable times over the years but the outstanding thing to me is the friendship and comradery of my work colleagues.”

Kevin Dinning, Newton Aycliffe

Kevin started his career in London before joining NEAS in 2002, initially based at South Durham on relief before securing a permanent base at Aycliffe station, where he has remained ever since and is now the longest serving paramedic on station. He is a paramedic mentor and received a special recognition award in 2012 for going above and beyond the call of duty at work when he stepped in to protect a colleague from being seriously attacked.

In his 22 years of service, Kevin has attended two major incidents, both during his time in London.

He said: “As a paramedic in the pre-hospital setting, I attend and deal with patients at some of the most vulnerable and frightening times of their lives, and with this comes a huge responsibility with the ability to make a difference, to do something that matters, and to help someone in their time of greatest need.

“I believe the NHS is a wonderful British institution, which is the envy of the world. I personally am very proud to be a paramedic within the NHS.”

Marcus Curtis, Hartlepool

Marcus joined Cumbria Ambulance Service in 1999 before joining what was then Tees, East and North Yorkshire Service in 2003. He has been based in Hartlepool ever since.

Now a clinical care manager, supporting frontline staff within the Hartlepool cluster, covering Hartlepool Peterlee, Ryhope, Seaham, and Fishburn, one of his proudest achievements is delivering 13 babies during his career – including one named Michael Marcus within five minutes of being born.

He said: “I’ve always been proud to use my skills, training and experience to help people when they need it the most.”

Michele Weedy, Wallsend

Michele joined the ambulance service on patient transport in 1999, initially based in Ashington. She moved to Wallsend in November 2000 and has remained there ever since, where she works as a clinical care assistant.

One of her most memorable moments was being part of the team who saved a cyclist who had a cardiac arrest, watching him go from being ‘clinically dead’ to being able to speak to his family on his mobile phone on the way to hospital.

She said: “The ability to help, support, guide and treat someone who is unwell, injured or struggling with life is what makes me proud to work for the ambulance service. I am part of a great team who all have the same beliefs and have made some great friends and worked with some great colleagues over the years.”

Philip Liscombe, Wooler

Prior to joining the ambulance service, Philip served in the RAF for 19 years, where he was awarded a long service and good conduct medal.

For the last 10 years, he has supported frontline staff as a team leader and clinical care manager. He retired two years ago and returned part-time as a community paramedic, based in Wooler.

Phil is dedicated to his job and one of his memorable moments is receiving a letter of commendation after continuing to treat a patient during extreme weather conditions despite breaking his leg in the process.

Rob Enser, Alnwick

Rob’s NHS career began in King’s Lynn near Sandringham in 1999. He joined NEAS in December 2005 and joined the training team a year later before supporting the community paramedic initiative in Wooler the same year. He was the clinical lead for the introduction of the electronic patient record form in 2011, and is now a clinical care manager, supporting frontline staff within the Alnwick cluster, covering Berwick, Alnwick, Belford, Rothbury, Wooler, Blyth, and Amble.

One of his most memorable moments was being thanked in person by a patient whose life he helped save.

He said: “NEAS is at the forefront of a number of initiatives designed to provide improved healthcare for patients in the region. It continues to provide excellent response times and patient treatment which is testament to the road staff and also those that support them to perform so well.”

Stephen Barker, Crook

Stephen’s career began in patient transport with Durham County Ambulance Service in 1991 before he started his technician training in 1998, followed by his paramedic course in 2003. 

He met his wife Joanne when she was a nurse, before joining NEAS as a clinical section manager within our Emergency Operations Centre.  He has two sons.

One of his most memorable moments was attending to a 107-year-old patient. He said: “I recall writing in 1897 as the year she was born, which felt surreal at the time and still does. I recall realising the time span spread over three centuries which got me thinking what changes this lady had lived through, witnessed and experienced. She would have been 51 years of age on the birth of the NHS.

“What makes me proud is the support and camaraderie from our colleagues and peers during the highs and lows this role can bring. Sharing of knowledge and experiences between older staff, new staff and the students we mentor, knowing we will be handing over the baton to them to for the future in this ever-changing role just as we were supported in the beginning of our careers.” 

Terry Short, Hartlepool

Terry joined what was then Durham Ambulance Service on patient transport in 1996 before progressing on to emergency care. Although he advanced to clinical care manager, he stepped down as he missed treating his patients.

He said: “One of my most memorable moments was being the first NEAS paramedic to give a thrombolytic drug, Tenecteplase, to a heart attack patient. I was nervous but the outcome was life-saving – you can’t get a better feeling.

“NEAS has given me the opportunity to be able to help a great deal of patients over the past 25 years. I will be forever grateful and hope I have done the service proud in return.”

Tom Jewitt, Durham

Tom joined the ambulance service on patient transport in 1998 and has worked in Consett, Gilesgate, Stanley, Bishop Auckland and Lanchester Road during the course of his career. Having progressed through the different roles in emergency care, he is now a clinical care manager, supporting staff within the Lanchester cluster, covering Consett, Stanley, Chester le Street, Gilesgate, Crook, and Lanchester Road.

He said: “I am proud of the difference we can make to peoples’ lives, and also the support in my current role that I am able to offer frontline staff when they need it.

“It is a privilege to work with not only NEAS staff but also the other healthcare professionals we deal with.”

James Tosney, Ashington

James joined the ambulance service in 1995 on patient transport before training as an advanced technician in 1999 and qualifying as a paramedic in 2005. He is now also one of our clinicians trained to support our Emergency Operations Centre in times of high demand.

“One of my most memorable moments was being presented with my certificate of ambulance service administration at Alnwick Playhouse in 1999, which opened the door to my A&E career.

“I am immensely proud to hold the position of paramedic within a first-class organisation. I enjoy being able to make a difference to people’s lives on a daily basis. Helping people in their hour of need and bringing about positive outcomes is very rewarding and allows me to obtain a huge amount of job satisfaction.” 

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