Paramedic in new year honours list calls for global health equality

Nich Woolf spent eight months caring for people in Vanuatu, one of the world’s most remote communities

A paramedic who volunteered for eight months caring for people in one of the world’s most remote communities has called for action to erode stark global health inequalities after being awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to emergency medicine and disaster response.

Nich Woolf, who turned 68 on New Year’s Day and is originally from London, had planned to be in Vanuatu – more than 2,000 miles (3,200km) off Australia’s east coast – working with ambulance crews from February to April but was only able to return home in mid-October due to pandemic travel restrictions.

“Because all the Australians went home as their government said they had to, I was left on Santo island as the only qualified paramedic, along with three local students,” Woolf said. “I was essentially on call from end of March through to October when I left.”

The paramedic, who along with working for ambulance crews in the west of England and Wales has volunteered in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Haiti, added of the award: “It was a complete surprise and a shock. I’m very proud of it. I’ve always thought that the best thing I could do with my life was to help other people.

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life. So I’ve shared knowledge with people and in return they often share their knowledge with me, even when healthcare resources are not good.

Nich Woolf with fellow healthcare workers
Nich Woolf (right) says he shares his knowledge with others working in the countries in which he volunteers and gains their knowledge in return. Photograph: Facebook

“My volunteer work has kept me going in my life. That’s what I’m about, I believe in using any skills that I have to benefit other people.”

With Vanuatu’s largest island not having a working X-ray machine and limited other facilities, some patients Woolf reached had to be sent by air almost 200 miles to the country’s capital and main hub, Port Vila, while others with conditions and diseases more easily treatable in the west died, unable to receive the necessary care due to the poor infrastructure.

“These were things that are serious but would easily be dealt with in the UK,” said Woolf. “It was a difficult time. I was having to really stretch myself as a paramedic to deal with things. It’s lovely to be recognised in the new year honours but it brings up a lot of feelings about how much more work there is to do to sort out the health inequalities that exist in the world.

“It’s worth putting a lot of effort into helping people get the healthcare they deserve. People say they’ll spend money on hospitals but seem to spend it on weapons instead.”


In early April, the Pacific archipelago of approximately 80 islands was hit by a cyclone that brought winds of almost 200mph and destroyed whole villages.

“The place was wrecked and the southern half of the island was devastated,” he said. “A lot of villages in the rainforest had lost every single building, including dozens of kindergartens, which for some children could be their only ever schooling.”

To help raise money to build a new preschool on Espiritu Santo, the largest island, Woolf teamed up with other expats to present a funding proposal for about £7,000 to the UK, Australia and New Zealand high commissions.

“Its not fully sorted but we have had some good offers,” said Woolf, who is also a trustee of Somerset charity Festival Medical Services.


Mattha Busby

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
New year honours list includes outspoken critics of government
Chris Bryant and Julian Lewis receive knighthoods while Michael Marmot gets Companion of Honour

Peter Walker Political correspondent

30, Dec, 2022 @10:30 PM

Article image
Iain Duncan Smith among three MPs in new year honours list
Former Tory vice-chairman Bob Neill and Labour’s Diana Johnson also receive honours

Peter Walker Political correspondent

27, Dec, 2019 @10:30 PM

Article image
Cabinet Office fined £500,000 over New Year honours list data breach
Regulator says safety of hundreds of individuals was jeopardised after their addresses were posted online

Dan Milmo Technology editor

02, Dec, 2021 @12:46 PM

Article image
New Year honours list rewards terror attack responders
London and Manchester emergency workers recognised along with Twiggy, Margaret Atwood and Michael Palin

Caroline Davies

28, Dec, 2018 @10:30 PM

Article image
Tory kingmaker among six politicians awarded top New Year honours
1922 Committee’s Graham Brady and former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg are knighted and Cheryl Gillan is made a dame

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

29, Dec, 2017 @10:30 PM

Article image
Community champions dominate new year honours list
Charity fundraisers and volunteers supporting refugees among those recognised for their contribution

Caroline Davies

30, Dec, 2022 @10:30 PM

Article image
BMX club founder and free breakfast provider join honours list's local heroes
Charity worker and campaigner for young adults with disabilities also among those recognised for services to local communities in New Year list

Caroline Davies

30, Dec, 2015 @10:30 PM

Article image
Ambulance services face paramedic shortage this winter, NHS data shows
Services in England are short of 873 paramedics, with some plugging gaps with recruits from Poland, Finland and Australia

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

24, Dec, 2016 @8:00 AM

Article image
Inspirational young people recognised in new year honours list
Accolades for young people who led the way in fundraising efforts and helping out their communities

Alexandra Topping

31, Dec, 2021 @10:30 PM

Article image
Billionaire Tory donor knighted in new year honours list
Boris Johnson accused of ‘wrong priorities’ after David Winton Harding given award for services to philanthropy

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

31, Dec, 2021 @10:30 PM