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The UK Emergency Medical Team

The UK Emergency Medical Team (UKEMT) is the UK’s front line response to a humanitarian crisis overseas, such as an earthquake or tsunami.

NHS physiotherapist Maeve Tohill reasures a child lying in a hospital bed during the Measles outbreak in Samoa, 2019.

NHS physiotherapist Maeve Tohill, supporting the Measles outbreak in Samoa, 2019. | © UK-Med

The UK Emergency Medical Team (UKEMT) is the UK’s front line response to a humanitarian crisis overseas, such as an earthquake or tsunami. Since 2013, Humanity & Inclusion (HI) has been working to integrate rehabilitation into the UKEMT.

The UKEMT is both scalable and flexible, which allows it to support affected countries immediately after a humanitarian emergency and deliver effective, life-saving healthcare.

Tailoring each response to the need, the UKEMT can deploy resources that include a fully-equipped surgical field hospital, a standalone specialist unit (e.g. rehabilitation, spinal injury, or outbreaks), or clinical personnel only, to work in existing infrastructure.

Funded by UK aid, the UKEMT is staffed by experienced NHS volunteers who can deploy at 24 hours' notice. The charity UK-Med maintians a register of UK-based medical and health professionals, who undergo rigorous pre-deployment training to prepare for working in disaster zones. The field hospital is operated with the support of the UK Fire and Rescue Service.

The UKEMT is a consortium of 4 different agencies: The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), UK-Med, UK Fire and Rescue Services, and Humanity & Inclusion (HI).

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Integrating rehabilitation

Since 2013, HI has been working to integrate rehabilitation into the UKEMT. This has involved recruiting rehabilitation professionals to join the teams, providing them with specialist humanitarian training, and working with partners to ensure the field hospital is fully equipped and accessible. This means that now, as well as surgery and emergency healthcare, patient care includes early rehabilitation, including the provision of essential equipment such as wheelchairs and orthotics, psychosocial support, and onward referral.

HI has also played a key role in emergency team deployments to the Philippines (2013), Gaza (2014), Nepal (2015), Samoa (2019) and Lebanon (2020). And, by linking the UKEMT to HI’s own field teams operating in disaster zones, we are able to ensure all patients receive long term follow-up care, which until now has been a major challenge for emergency medical teams.

HI has developed a package of resources to support the project. This includes the first ever clinical manual on rehabilitation in disasters, a briefing paper on disaster management for physiotherapists, a "do's and don’ts" guide for rehabilitation professionals responding to disasters, and a handbook on Early Rehabilitation in Conflict and Disasters that has an accompanying free e-learning course.

By providing free clinical and humanitarian training for UK health professionals, we are not only strengthening the global humanitarian community but also the NHS. We have worked closely with many professional UK and global professional groups to ensure all our training meets national and international standards of excellence.

WHO rehabilitation standards for emergency teams

In 2016, the UKEMT became one of the first emergency field hospitals to be verified by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the first to have a dedicated rehabilitation team, led by HI, that can deploy rapidly in response to a disaster.

HI has also worked with the WHO Emergency Medical Teams Initiative to expand the Minimum Technical Standards and Recommendations for Rehabilitation. These standards go a long way towards ensuring that all responding agencies will now consider early rehabilitation and continuity of care as part of their response.

Project resources

The package of resources developed by HI to support the UKEMT project and wider rehabilitation community is available to download below.

 ► Clinical manual: Rehabilitation in Sudden Onset Disasters (pdf, 22 MB. Warning - large file!)

► WCPT briefing paper: The role of physical therapists in  disaster management (pdf, 2.7 MB)

► Responding internationally to disasters: A do's and don’ts guide for rehabilitation professionals (pdf, 2.1 MB)

► Emergency Medical Teams: WHO Minimum Technical Standards and Recommendations for Rehabilitation (pdf, 969 KB)

► Early Rehabilitation in Conflicts and Disasters Handbook (English) (pdf, 5.3 MB)

French and Arabic versions of the handbook, plus videos and links to the e-learning are available at https://hi.org/en/early-rehabilitation-in-conflicts-and-disasters

Contact us

If you would like to get in touch with anyone in the UKEMT Rehabilitation team, please email: rehab.uk@hi.org.

Find out more

If you are a health professional interested in the UK Emergency Medical Team, you can find more information at: www.uk-med.org 


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© Corentin Fohlen/HI

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