Standing among doctors, physicians and primary health care practitioners, it looks, smells and feels like any other hospital – but it is floating on the ocean.

The primary casualty reception facility on board HMAS Canberra is a hive of activity, with the tri-service team providing primary health care and maintenance of the ship’s company and embarked forces while deployed as part of Indo-Pacific Endeavour.

New Zealand Navy medic Able Seaman Rachel Walton joined the medical team for the duration of IPE19.

“Being one of the Kiwis embedded in the task force is brilliant,” Able Seaman Walton said.

“The culture is much the same as in the ships back home; the people are really friendly, we’ve got a similar sense of humour and banter.”

Canberra has a number of functions available to it, with specialties including physiotherapy, psychology, pharmacy, radiography, dental and pathology, which are not typically afforded to ships at sea.

Senior health officer Lieutenant Commander Patricia Kemp said the benefit of having these extra capabilities embarked provided a high level of medical support to the task force.

Able Seaman medic Troy Bennett, a former boatswain’s mate, spoke highly of the medical team on board, praising the opportunity for career and professional development.
“There’s so much medical knowledge on board,” Able Seaman Bennett said.

“The medics are the backbone of our entire team.”

“Every day we’re learning something new, which is great for developing and refining new skills and it’s also a good morale-booster.

“There’s a different kind of stress involved with being a medic. It’s not that you’re having the pressures of watch-keeping, but you’re stressed because someone’s health is on the line.”

Able Seaman Bennett is part of the maritime operational health team embarked in Canberra during the building partner capacity mission.

“Essentially, we’re here to augment the ship’s medical team and allow for the provision of a resuscitation and holding capability while deployed,” he said.

Lieutenant Commander Kemp praised the keen attitude of her people, particularly the able seaman and leading seaman medics who made the primary casualty reception facility capability possible.

“The medics are the backbone of our entire team,” Lieutenant Commander Kemp said.

“They have the best attitude and, without them, we wouldn’t be able to perform and function as a health centre.”

Exercises such as IPE19 promote security, stability and enhance the Australian Defence Force’s capacity to respond to partner nations during times of crisis throughout the region.

The joint task force comprises HMA Ships Canberra, Newcastle, Parramatta and Success.

IPE19 comprises a wide range of activities, including disaster assistance planning, multinational naval manoeuvres and training serials with partner security forces.