Flying from island to island is all in a day’s work for Hannah McKechnie, who is based at the Falkland Islands’ only hospital.
Hannah McKechnie grew up in rural Ireland before studying physiotherapy at the University of Essex. She has been a physiotherapist in the Falklands for three years. Her base is the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in Stanley, but government planes fly her to patients in the archipelago’s remote rural settlements or camps, as they are known.
How did you come to be working in the Falklands?
My husband got a job teaching history in the secondary school and I arrived with him. We’re based in Stanley, the capital, where most of the 3,000 population live. The next biggest settlement only has about 50 residents, if that. Because of the small population, there is only one hospital here, the King Edward VII Memorial.
What services do you provide?
We are a department of one full-time and one part-time physiotherapist. We cover many areas of physiotherapy – paediatrics, care of the elderly, acute and chronic neurological conditions, musculoskeletal, orthopaedics, respiratory and community.
All medical, dental, allied health professional and community health services are based at the hospital. Often, care to the settlements is provided via telephone consultations.
Patients with urgent or complex conditions may be referred to hospitals back in the UK, under a reciprocal agreement with the NHS,
or, increasingly, to Santiago in Chile.
Which services are most in demand?
Demographically, the population of the Falklands is similar to that of the UK – multicultural and ageing – but on a much smaller scale. We deal mostly with musculoskeletal conditions and care of the elderly, but we have to be prepared to deal with pretty much anything. We also organise and run the visiting orthopaedic specialist clinic.
Tell us about the camp visits.
Camp is the name for anywhere outside of Stanley. The Falklands are an archipelago of some 768 islands with a total land mass similar to the size of Northern Ireland.
While most people live in Stanley, on East Falkland, there are remote settlements across both this island and West Falkland, the second largest island. There are also small populations – often one family – living on many of the outer islands.
These are remote sheep farms and served by the Falkland Islands Government Air Service, flying eight-seater B-N Islander aircraft to 26 grass or beach airstrips near the settlements. Flights take anywhere from 25 to 90 minutes.
With many of the residents living on working farms or being elderly, the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital flies doctors to the outer settlements once a week.
We noticed that there was a proportion of the population who had a need for physiotherapy, but never came into Stanley. So we proposed ‘flying physio’ visits to camp. We fly out with the doctors and carry out our assessments and treatment in the patients’ homes. This means we have to be adaptable and ready to fly to several settlements or different islands in a day.
Was it hard to adjust to life in such a remote place?
I’m not sure much can prepare you for a life as remote as this. Little things took some adjustment – like how people leave their keys in the ignition and walk into each other’s houses to say hi. Simple things, like fresh fruit and the internet, that we take for granted in the UK, are limited and expensive here. That said, the ability to have lunch as you watch whales, penguins or sea lions is priceless. It is sometimes hard to believe we’re so far from the UK because Stanley resembles a British village in many ways – including our red telephone boxes.
What’s next for you?
We have been here for three years now and intend to stay for several more. Beyond that, we’re not sure. But being on a remote island has meant seeing anything and everything that comes our way. This has left me with a large and interesting scope of practice to continue and expand in other remote destinations.
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