Ex-Army doctor named as new medical director

From the Middle East to the East Midlands - ex-Army doctor named as new ambulance service medical director

An ex-Army doctor who regularly flies with one of the region’s 999 emergency helicopters has been appointed the most senior doctor at East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS).

As the service’s new medical director, Dr Leon Roberts MBE, is responsible for maintaining and improving clinical standards of 999 care across 6,425 square miles and six counties.

Well versed in being first at the scene of a medical emergency, Dr Roberts has flown weekly with the Derbyshire, Leicestershire Rutland Air Ambulance for the past seven years and was awarded the MBE in 2010 for his voluntary pre-hospital emergency care work and his military service with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

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The 41-year-old served as an Army senior doctor, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, after studying medicine at Leeds University. His overseas tours of duty include Sierra Leone, Belize,  Uganda, Kenya, Canada, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

As well as working as a critical care doctor with the Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance, Dr Roberts has worked as a GP in the Emergency Department at Leicester Royal Infirmary and as an urgent care doctor in Corby. He will continue to work as a GP associate at Oakham Medical Practice in Rutland.

Already a familiar face at EMAS, having also worked to support the senior leadership and provide clinical guidance for the past two years, he says he is relishing the chance to drive further improvements during a critical and exciting time.

“It is important to me that everybody delivering care at EMAS felt like they were doing it under a medical director who understood, who delivers care in similar circumstances and wouldn’t ask crews to do anything that he wouldn’t be prepared to do himself.

“The best care happens when different parts of the NHS work together, and I am keen to combine my primary care skills and knowledge with my pre-hospital and in-hospital experience to develop the most effective care pathways for patients,” said Dr Roberts.   

“It is important to me that everyone delivering care at EMAS feels they are working under someone who understands what they do and wouldn’t ask someone to do something they wouldn’t be prepared to do themselves. They should know that I understand the daily challenges they are going through.”

“There are great opportunities to collaborate across the health and social care sector and I want EMAS to play a leading role, particularly where new technology can play a part in improving the way we assess and treat patients.

“I want to develop a culture where we develop things that work well but we are not afraid to look at things that haven’t gone well and we learn from them – lessons learned and professional development are both part of the same process.”

Investment in training and recruitment of extra frontline crews, alongside additional and replacement vehicles, is set to continue at EMAS with up to £10m extra available to the trust over the next 12 months, subject to it meeting performance and financial targets.

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Dr Roberts on active service during his time as an Army doctor
This follows investment of more than £8m to recruit and train almost 500 extra frontline staff and, in the past four months, EMAS has added 27 emergency ambulances to its fleet, alongside 40 replacement vehicles.

Meanwhile, 47 Urgent Care Ambulances, staffed by 100 urgent care assistants, have been introduced across the region to provide care for patients with urgent but not immediately life-threatening conditions.

Dr Roberts, who lives near Oakham, Rutland, said: “This is part of the long-term transformation of our ambulance service. We need people who want to be associated with EMAS, who want to work at EMAS and who want to stay at EMAS.

“I am extremely proud of the compassion and commitment shown by teams across EMAS every day as they respond to the challenges we face to provide effective care.

“We need to ensure we have highly skilled staff and resources available to provide the swiftest and most effective responses to the most serious 999 calls – people with immediately life-threatening conditions.

“While many of our calls are for conditions that are not immediately life-threatening, they are from patients in considerable distress and need. In these cases it can often be more important to ensure we get the right level of care to them and take them to the most appropriate place for ongoing care, rather than focussing purely on getting them to the nearest accident and emergency department as quickly as possible.

“It is vital that we maintain the right balance of skills and vehicles available to match the needs of all the patients we serve.”      

Dr Roberts previously worked with EMAS as an assistant medical director and strategic medical adviser and has supported the service’s Clinical Assessment Team in the Emergency Operations Centre to prioritise and offer the best and most appropriate care to patients dialling 999.

He believes his experience of the local NHS from different perspectives will help as the NHS moves towards more effective and collaborative working, finding solutions to patient needs that use skills and expertise from across health and social care sectors.

Dr Leon Roberts, East Midlands Ambulance Service Medical Director

Born: 1977, Sheffield

Family: Married to Amie, he has two children, Neve, 12, Logan, nine  

How do you relax? Walking Freddy the dog and supporting a variety of the children’s sporting commitments

Graduated: Leeds School of Medicine, 2000; Royal Military Academy, 2002

Career highpoint

Working in northern Kenya, near Ethiopia, setting up clinics to provide care for nomadic people. We saw thousands of patients over five weeks, including a nine-year-old suffering from organophosphate poisoning who was at death’s door. He survived thanks to everyone’s immediate actions.

Toughest time in the Army

Being regularly away from family. During an operational tour of Afghanistan in 2010 I had 12 days at home during a seven-month deployment.

Have you ever been shot at?

While in Afghanistan, I spent much of my time out on foot patrol – we often came under fire and it was my job to support Afghan doctors – mainly treating Afghan soldiers and the local population.

Most valuable lesson learned from Army life

Flexibility – moving location, regiment and home every few years taught me to remain flexible, always ready to work with different colleagues and in different ways in different settings.

Most valuable lesson learned in civilian life

Never underestimate people’s ability to cope in a crisis. I am always amazed at the strength and resilience members of the public find in distressing circumstances. It really does restore your faith in humanity. You want to do your best for them because they are having what will for some be their worst moments.

Most satisfying medical moment

Being given the chance to do the anaesthetist training needed to become an air ambulance doctor. I hadn’t considered it before, I was always an Army doctor and hadn’t thought of much else. One of my first jobs on the air ambulance was to a young boy who had been hit by a bus. The team provided immediate care and flew him to a paediatric neurosurgical team rapidly, he survived to get back to school. I haven’t looked back since.