HNA’s Angel of Mercy prepares to take the plunge

As we all left Manchester at the end of the HNA 2016, there were the usual “see you next year” farewells. But for the first time since I started in my present role 14 years ago I won’t be at HNA 2017.

The first half of 2017 is going to be a very exciting, if slightly terrifying time for me. Having decided that I fancied a break, and being too young to retire but too old and set in my ways to go down a totally different path, I am taking a 6 month career break. This was surprisingly easy to negotiate; I’m not sure if all Trusts recognise the value of retaining experienced staff or if I just have a supportive manager, but it was agreed quickly and painlessly. My post is being backfilled for the entire time I am away, and I will return to it at the end of 6 months.

Having arranged the time off I then had to decide what to do with myself for 6 months – sounds like heaven, but the reality of having to keep myself for this time without any pay kicked in pretty quickly. I knew I wanted to see a bit more of the British Isles (I’m ashamed to confess I’ve never been to Scotland or the Lake District), but I also wanted to undertake some voluntary work abroad. Initially I thought I would look at non-nursing/caring roles, but I quickly decided I wasn’t really cut out to build walls and dig drains. I also realised fairly early on that you have to pay to be a volunteer for most organisations, and that in some instances you really are just a spare pair of hands. Therefore, I wanted to be sure that whatever I was going to do would be beneficial to me, and those I was hoping to help. One of my consultant colleagues suggested that I look at the Mercy Ships.

Anna Farrell

Mercy Ships operates the world’s largest charitable floating hospital, providing free medical care to some of the poorest people. The ship sails directly to different countries mainly in Africa, providing safe, state of the art surgical care to local people. The ship has 82 patient beds and 5 operating theatres, along with a CT scanner, X-ray and laboratory services. It has the capacity for 474 nurses, doctors, surgeons and all the other staff needed for the smooth running of a hospital and ship.

Having looked at the work carried out by the Mercy Ship I decided to take the plunge and apply for a 3-month posting. The application process is online, and it took about 3 months from applying to being offered dates. Since then I’ve been busy getting vaccinations, sorting out house sitters, and applying to different organisations for grants: all crew on board pay a monthly fee to cover accommodation and food. I will be a paediatric nurse on the surgical ward; however I think I may also be looking after adult patients postoperatively. Most of the surgery taking place when I’m on-board is likely to be plastic and orthopaedic surgery, but this may change depending on the availability of surgeons. This really is a voyage into the unknown (if you’ll excuse the pun!)

As my departure grows closer (I fly on 8 January), I am both excited and anxious. I’m excited about stepping out of my comfort zone and experiencing a different way of nursing in a different culture, and meeting new people from around the world. I’m anxious about the unknown elements, about being a surgical nurse for the first time in nearly 20 years, about living on-board a ship for 3 months … and sharing a dorm with up to 10 people!

So although I won’t be joining you in Birmingham in 2017 I will be thinking of you all and looking forward to catching up in 2018, with lots of adventures to tell you about.

You can make donations and read more about the work of Mercy Ships at