Structure and training at sea 1 - Flexibility of medical branch

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Peter Okey RNH Portsmouth 1953Peter Okey

Service: 1953 - 1979

Rate: Sick Berth Attendant

Peter was an apprentice Dental Technician before he joined the Royal Navy in 1953 as a Sick Berth Attendant to complete his national service. He went on to have a naval career that spanned 26 years, serving in Royal Naval Hospitals in Portsmouth, Chatham and Plymouth as well as spending two and a half years as the lone SBA onboard HMS Zest.


Here Peter recalls the flexibility needed to be an SBA and the expectations the Captain had of him when working as the only medical professional on board HMS Zest.


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Extract Text (Duration 2.21)

It sort of was a strange thing about the Medical branch of the Navy, is you could be suddenly told to report to some other department or other and it didn't matter whether it was a dental department or an ophthalmic department or whatever it was, you picked it up, and this is why I think that Sick Berth Attendants and Medical Technicians became such a well-rounded individual in terms of... For example, I talked about venereal disease; I have to say to you that your average Sick Berth Attendant or Medical Technician is an expert in venereal disease, in contrast to a civilian GP. A civilian GP probably encounters this in training school, but report to a civilian GP and say that you have the symptoms of venereal disease he will throw his hands up in horror and refer you to the special treatment centre in the hospital, and so he never ever gets to grips with it. Yes, I'm teaching... the expectation part of things as far as other people concerned, the Captain of the Zest thought I was the best thing since sliced bread. I mean simply because every situation that happened that was dramatic or whatever, I dealt with. But then, this was a danger in itself, because I can remember a chap... this is going back to the Zest I know, but there was a soldier injured in the jungle in Borneo and by radio they got in touch with the Zest and the Captain said, "Oh, my LSBA's a great chap I'll send him out," and so I disappeared into the jungle and I thought the expectation that this Captain had of me; was I was going to put this chap right who'd severely injured his back. However, it turned out that it wasn't nearly as difficult as I'd expected and it was all right, but that was the sort of the thing, it was sometimes people had an unreal expectation of you.

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