Volunteers’ Week: UK anaesthetist on sharing skills around the world

This Volunteers’ Week, we’re highlighting volunteers from across the eye health spectrum. Today we meet Ian Fleming, a consultant anaesthetist from King’s College Hospital.

Ian first came across Orbis in 2005, when two colleagues encouraged him to get involved: “Luckily, the Flying Eye Hospital was at Stanstead airport 2004/2005 on a goodwill tour, so I got the opportunity to have a look around and talk to the team there and I liked what I saw. I am an ophthalmic anaesthetist, so it was a very natural connection.”

Since then, Ian has dedicated his free time over the past 15 years to helping to ensure that no-one leads a life of unnecessary darkness, volunteering on numerous training programmes for Orbis, including in Bangladesh, Vietnam and Ethiopia to name a few.

Ian consulting with a patient in Ghana in 2019

He told us about his most recent trip with Orbis in November 2019:

“I was in Ghana last year. There was a Flying Eye Hospital programme in Accra, but then we were also moved onto Kumasi, the second city in Ghana. In Kumasi they are developing [the hospital] into a paediatric centre. Children bear the substantial burden of eye disease and certainly when they require surgery, paediatric anaesthesia requires very specific knowledge and skills. That is one of the things I am heavily involved with - developing the knowledge and skills of my colleagues working in countries to develop their paediatric anaesthesia.”

Ian Fleming conducting training in Vietnam in 2015

Ian works onboard our unique Flying Eye Hospital; a specially adapted plane featuring a fully-equipped operating theatre, laser suite and dedicated learning facilities, as well as working within local hospitals teaching anaesthetists within their own facilities.

Working within local hospitals is something he very much enjoys, as it provides him with the opportunity to see the facilities his mentees work in. This way he can experience first-hand the difficulties they face and tailor his teaching, for the team to get the most out of their time working with him:

“To see my anaesthetic colleagues develop their skills and their knowledge and their confidence… I know when I am gone, they will be practicing good quality and good practice anaesthesia and for me often that’s what drives me to do the work that I do, is giving colleagues that support. I am very aware of having had a privileged education and training in this country, I am very aware my colleagues working in low income countries are being asked to look after patients just as sick as mine are but are being asked to do it without the training, the drugs, the treatment, the skills that I have. It’s enormously rewarding.”

Ian prepares for an operation in China in 2016

Thanks to his dedication to volunteering and teaching, Ian Fleming was made an Orbis UK ambassador; but, as he tells, us, “it’s important to remember the training is not a one-way street at all. I have learnt a lot from [the people I’ve trained]. These are skills that I have brought back to my practice in the UK and to the NHS.”

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