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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Rough and tumble of a lifeboat doctor

After being rescued himself, Dr Roger Nunn was invited to join the local lifeboat crew as medical adviser

The pay is non-existent. The career advancement is nil. You might spend your day off disposing of your last meal over the rails. But when I was asked to take over as honorary medical adviser of the local RNLI lifeboat station in Filey it was an offer I couldn't refuse.

Two weeks earlier I'd joined a partnership in a small fishing and holiday community between Scarborough and Bridlington on the Yorkshire coast. I'd sneaked off after visits for an afternoon on my new windsurfer. And now I was regretting it. Although I could get my new toy to pull me towards the high cliffs, the wind and waves (and my inexperience) meant I couldn't go back the other way. I was floundering hopelessly a mile or more offshore, in the middle of Filey Bay. What did I do? I summoned the inshore lifeboat.

So that was why I couldn't refuse the offer a couple of weeks later to become the crew's honorary medical adviser, now called a Lifeboat Medical Adviser (LMA).

But it's turned out to be an interesting job. There are plenty of health service professionals on the RNLI's books and the role of LMA is very much what the individual chooses to make it. You can attend station management committee meetings – though personally I'm not keen on meetings, medical or RNLI.

There'll be many a crew medical to undertake – this is an insurance-style medical examination, focusing on capacity to work on board an unsteady and constantly moving boat. Much of the medical can be done with the help of one of the practice nurses, who are usually keen to help a good cause like the RNLI, which is entirely funded by charity.

The RNLI provides first-aid training to the crews and stipulates what must be carried in the first-aid kit on the various boats. The emphasis is very much on practicality as certain things can't be done with cold wet fingers on a dark night – you learn a lot about real first-aid out in the elements. The crew are always keen to have their LMA join them on exercises; local divers or fishermen are often willing to act as 'casualties', having their 'fractured' limbs immobilised in FracStraps or inflatable splints.

Adventure and excitement

Theoretically an LMA might join the crew on a real emergency or 'shout', though lifeboats now normally carry out rescues in tandem with helicopters. That doesn't mean you miss out on the fun bits, though, as most LMAs will have been winched up into the belly of a Sea King (if they haven't declined the offer) or abseiled down cliffs at least once or twice on exercises.

The crews themselves are a diverse bunch, men and women, from a wide variety of backgrounds: many crews will have fishermen, but our team also has teachers, ambulance paramedics, doctors and housewives.

Contemporary pressures on GPs, and perhaps a more mercenary attitude among us, mean some stations lack an LMA. So if you work within striking distance of the coast and would like to be an essential part of a team of great men and women doing a really worthwhile job, call Helen McHugh at RNLI Headquarters in Poole on 01202 663000, or e-mail: Helen_McHugh@rnli.org.uk.

I'm now getting into kitesurfing, so I want those lifeboats well crewed.

Roger Nunn is an RNLI lifeboat medical adviser and a GP in Filey

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