Camilla Meets Hospital Ship Crew

The Duchess of Cornwall's made a tour of the facilities and met the staff of a hospital ship.

In her role as commodore-in-chief of the Royal Naval Medical Services, Camilla visited Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Argus at Portsmouth Naval Base on Tuesday February 15th 2011.

During the visit, she was given a demonstration of simulated casualties arriving on the ship and being treated by the crew's medical staff.

The duchess met members of the Joint Force Medical Group who are about to deploy to Afghanistan.

Leading naval nurse Gina Horner, 23, from Redhill, Surrey, is about to go to Afghanistan for her first deployment.

She said:

"I am a bit apprehensive and excited as well.

"I always wanted to be a nurse and I felt the Royal Navy was the best suited to my personality.

"Camilla was lovely, very friendly and asked about my feelings at being deployed for the first time.''

Amongst the personnel the duchess met were members of the Royal Marines Band who double as stretcher bearers.

She was also given a tour of the bridge and a brief guide to the operation of the engines and steering.

From the bridge, Camilla had a view of the axed aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal which was berthed in front of RFA Argus.

She said of the Ark Royal: "It's sad, very sad.''

Captain Paul Kehoe, the commanding officer, said of the royal visit:

"It is the first time she has been on board the ship. It is good for the naval medical branch.

"It raises the ship's profile. We tend to be a bit of a silent service and this engages with a wider audience what the capabilities of the ship are.

"We are the only Nato ship that has the flexibility and the facilities we have on board.''

RFA Argus has two primary roles - as a floating casualty unit which can be deployed to war zones around the world, and, with its 400ft flight deck, as a specialist aviation training facility for Royal Navy helicopters.

For its role as a primary casualty receiving facility (PCRF), it is equipped with two operating theatres and 100 beds.

A spokesman for the RFA said:

"This ensures that wounded service personnel of all nationalities can receive swift care.

"The PCRF complex within Argus is a fully equipped 100-bed hospital facility offering services including a four-bay operating theatre, coupled with a 10-bed intensive care unit, 20-bed high dependency unit, two 35-bed general wards and the full gamut of clinical support services.''

RFA Argus was built in 1981 as a container vessel before it was taken over by the MoD in 1982 to act as an aviation ferry in the Falklands War.

It was bought by the MoD in 1985 and underwent a £50 million conversion before entering service as RFA Argus in 1988.

It was upgraded to a full hospital facility in 1999 with its conversion to a PCRF in 2009.

RFA Argus has served in both Gulf wars, the Balkans, Sierra Leone and recently in the Middle East.

It has a crew of up to 150 personnel made up of RFA and Royal Navy staff.