A&E doctor speaks for first time about Brighton bombing in same hotel that was attacked

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The lead A&E doctor who responded to the Brighton bombing in 1984 has spoken publicly about the event for the first time in nearly 40 years – and in the very building that was hit by the blast.

Carlos Perez-Avila MBE was one of several speakers to provide expert and real-life insight about major incidents at a special conference held at The Grand Hotel in Brighton on 20 June 2022.

“You have to think that the unthinkable will happen,” said Carlos. “We are prepared and trained for this. And we are in a much better position now because there are more consultants, nurses and resources within the service which means we are better prepared to deal with a major incident.”

Organised by the Sussex Trauma Network and University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, the event brought hundreds of emergency care practitioners together to learn from each other.

Speakers included a trauma specialist who led the medical response to the 2017 Manchester Arena attack; a former advisor to the White House and expert in nuclear, chemical, biological and radioactive incidents; and a senior operations commander from Sussex Police who reassured the current UK threat level remains unchanged.

Deputy chief medical officer at University Hospitals Sussex, Dr Rob Haigh, said: “The assembly of such an international panel of speakers demonstrated just how important this conference was – as did the numbers of attendees from right across the country.

“Everyone involved in organising the event deserves great credit in making it so very effective; it really showed off the very best of University Hospitals Sussex and our trauma services.”

Consultant anaesthetist Dr Stephanie Tilston from the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton organised the conference and training event to bring members of the Sussex Trauma Network together for the first time since before the Covid pandemic.

The 300 attendees included regional paramedic, air ambulance and hospital colleagues, as well as other specialists in trauma care and emergency planning from around the country and beyond.

Stephanie said: “The more dialogue we have between all the teams that make up our network, the more we learn, and the knowledge of the network becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Conference-organiser-Dr-Stephanie-Tilston-with-Clinical-Director-of-Sussex-Trauma-Network-STN-Peter-Westhead-and-STN-Manager-Erin-Burns-1024x683.jpg
Conference organiser Dr Stephanie Tilston with Clinical Director of Sussex Trauma Network (STN) Peter Westhead and STN Manager Erin Burns
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Conference speakers Dr Kevin Fong OBE, Dr Alistair Rennie, and Dan Kaszeta

“We all have robust trauma systems in place, and we now communicate nationally and internationally to learn from each other.”

Carlos said the introduction of trauma networks has raised awareness of how to respond to potential events and he stressed the importance of major incident planning.

In fact, in 1984, Carlos had reviewed the hospital’s major incident plan just a few weeks before the provisional IRA attacked the British Government in Brighton, killing five and injuring many more.

Within 16 minutes of the explosion at 2.54am, he had declared a major incident at Royal Sussex County Hospital from his home and colleagues were being called in to help manage the emergency.

“You have to think that the unthinkable will happen,” said Carlos. “If you choose emergency medicine as a career, you deliver what you have committed.

“You have been taught to respond to whatever the world will throw at you. There was no crying, no shouting. Everything was very calm and efficient and that is due to the amazing staff I had in the department.”

Carlos, who retired in 2009, said returning to the scene of the attack and speaking in public about it for the first time was ‘emotional’ – but he was also ‘filled with pride’ to see how the practice of emergency medicine and trauma care has continued to evolve and improve over time.

Other key speakers on the day included professor of clinical traumatology Sir Keith Porter who highlighted how the citizenAID app can help the public stay safe and improvise health treatment before emergency services arrive in the event of a major incident.

Damage from the Brighton bombing at The Grand Hotel

Please visit our Sussex Trauma Network page for more information.

For more information about the citizenAID app, please visit Citizenaid.