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SSAFA Sisters mark 130th anniversary

The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) is celebrating the 130th anniversary of SSAFA nurses, midwives, and health visitors supporting Armed Forces families across the world.

Established in 1892 and known back then as the Alexandra Nurses, they provided professional care to the wives and families of soldiers and sailors in garrison and seaport towns across the world.

Such was their success that the UK’s National Health Service adopted the Alexandra Nurses’ practices for the District Nursing Service when it was set up in 1948.

SSAFA nurses, midwives, and health visitors are still at work today and provide first-class nursing and midwifery services to British Armed Forces personnel and their families posted overseas in Cyprus, SHAPE, Gibraltar, Brunei, Kenya, and BATUS in Canada.

Fiona Hutchings, who was a student midwife when she first visited the Rock in 2006 to carry out her elective placement with the SSAFA midwives, spoke of her time in the SSAFA and life on the Rock.

Despite her short time in Gibraltar, Ms Hutchings, aged 40, shared her memories in Gibraltar and she spent most of her days in the Royal Naval Hospital and visiting mothers in their homes.

Ms Hutchings’ placement was organised by Roz Martin at the Royal Naval Hospital on Europa Road.
“Gibraltar is one of the most unique places I've ever been to,” Ms Hutchings said.

“The military accommodation was spread out all over Gibraltar so we would have to drive there. I remember travelling to a visit via Europa Road and how narrow it was and wondering if we'd get there without hitting another car.”

“The SSAFA midwives only delivered around 40 babies per year in Gibraltar, so I thought that it was unlikely I would see a birth while I was on my placement. However, while Roz was on call, she was called back to the hospital because a woman had gone into labour.“

“The woman was married to a soldier in the Royal Gibraltar Regiment. I went to the hospital with Roz but wasn’t able to enter the room.

“The woman was surrounded by about 20 family members. I was told at the time that this was common to have so many family members at a birth in Gibraltar which I thought was amazing.”
At the time, Ms Hutchings was training in a maternity unit in Nottingham where women were strictly allowed no more than two birth partners.

During her time in Gibraltar, she also visited some young mothers posted to Gibraltar with their husbands.
“It could be their first experience of military life, which can be tough for spouses who have lived the life for years but to also have a baby while you are away can be really tough. I wondered how they managed without their family and friends being in the same country, but they just seemed to get on with it, without any complaints.”

She later returned to Gibraltar and is now the SSAFA Health Visitor in The Princess Royal Medical Centre, which was built in 2006.

“Since working for SSAFA, I have learnt a lot more about the highs and lows of military life - usually more from the perspective of the spouses as the parent who is serving in the forces is not usually present at the visits I do,” she said.

“I think during the pandemic, I was particularly amazed at how, on the whole, the community came together and supported each other. In general, my role here is very different from working as a health visitor in the UK and the best thing about it is being able to offer more time to families.

“In the UK, families may rarely see the same health visitor twice, so it is lovely to be able to get to know the families here so well.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to make clear the anniversary marks 130 years of SAFFA nurses, midwives and health visitors, rather than the organsiation itself.

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