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A NEWTOWNARDS woman has received the highest decoration for exceptional service in military nursing, the Royal Red Cross.

Karen McCullough, a commander with the Royal Navy, received the award for her exceptional service over a long period of time.

Florence Nightingale was one of the first recipients of the Royal Red Cross.

Along with her parents, David and Hazel McCullough, and her brother Gareth, Karen attended a ceremony on November 2 at Buckingham Palace where she received her award.

Karen has been in the Royal Navy for 19 years and has a number of accolades to her name, including being second in command of the intensive care unit in Afghanistan where she received a Commander Medical Commendation.

She was Hospital Officer on board RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) Argus and was recognised in the 2013 Operational Honours list with a Fleet Commanders Commendation.

She was also in charge of the wards in Sierra Leone on RFA Argus during the ebola epidemic and was Officer Commanding the United Nations Field hospital in South Sudan.

Her final assignment was as Commanding Officer of Joint Hospital Group South during the Covid pandemic which secured the award.

“During this time (at Joint Hospital Group South), I was responsible for 230 consultants, nurses and Allied health professionals working in partnership with Portsmouth Hospital Trust,” explained Karen.

“I also co-ordinated the MACA taskings for Portsmouth Trust and dealt with numerous NHS critical incidents.

“But the most important thing was ensuring that defence’s number one effort at the time – the carrier strike group with the maiden deployment of the Queen Elizabeth – could go ahead by co-ordinating the vaccination of 3,000 individuals across numerous Navy ships in a very short timeframe (one week) to allow the ships to deploy on time with fully vaccinated ships crew. This was at the time of the first vaccination.

“Additionally, I arranged with Portsmouth Hospital the co-ordination of all covid tests to ensure that all ships crew were covid free prior to deployment. This resulted in both Portsmouth University Hospital Trust and Joint Hospital Group South being ‘highly commended’ in the HSJ awards.”

Princess Anne presented the award and asked Karen a number of questions including her length of service before telling her ‘it was a remarkable achievement to ensure the carrier strike group personnel received their first vaccination to enable them to deploy on time’.

“She also commented on my role as Commanding Officer and how I had worked with the Chief Executive and Chief Nurse to develop a new partnership with the hospital which allowed us to work together on emergency planning and resilience as one team,” Karen said.

Karen was delighted to be able to share the palace experience with her family.

“My parents and brother are very proud but I was so proud of them. No one really understands the effect that deployments have on families,” she said.

“I have put my parents and brother and my wider family through a lot of deployments in some very difficult countries and with some very real threats. They have always been so supportive.

“I always knew what was happening, but they had to imagine it and that is more scary, so they more than earned this medal too and I was very happy to share it and the special day with them.”

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