A volunteer immediate care doctor from Holsworthy has been recognised for his commitment to local charity BASICS Devon and his community.

Dr David Hillebrandt has been responding for the past 35 years, initially as a GP and then with BASICS Devon, his dedicated support to his local community has been extraordinary.

Dr Hillebrandt has responded day and night, attending 60 to 70 cases a year ranging from medical emergencies to major trauma. Even after a long period on intensive care as a patient, David returned to BASICS work, not only responding in his local community but also supporting education, training, and fundraising. He will always go the extra mile and do what is right for patients.

Dr Hillebrandt tells his story: “From my first day at university I knew I wanted to be a rural General Practitioner. As a medical student in London in 1976 I was in a busy A&E department the day an Irish bomb went off at the Ideal Home Exhibition and this experience simply increased my interest in Prehospital care.

“When I settled in General Practice in 1986 GPs prided themselves in offering emergency services in their area and I still remember attending my first local car accident as part of a routine working day.

“Soon the Tamar and Torridge Immediate Care Scheme (TACTICS) evolved and at one time had five active members covering North Devon. We equipped ourselves from the proceeds of raids on ambulance stations or A&E departments and if it was not available, we improvised.

“Dr Lynette Bowden another volunteer used to respond in the Hartland area in her Fiat 500. In those days paramedics were an emerging concept but those of us who had worked as junior doctors in A&E departments had a range of useful basic clinical skills such as airway management, intra venous drug and fluid administration, insertion of chest drains and splinting. We arrived with drugs for pain relief and to initiate treatment.

“Our GP practice in Holsworthy offered early pre-hospital thrombolysis for patients having a heart attack which the on-call doctor carried together with the practice defibrillator. Day or night it was normal for a rural GP to attend most emergencies before calling for ambulance assistance.

“Over the years things became more formalised. We had a memorandum of understanding with South West Ambulance Services and were given a radio.”

Dr Hillebrandt received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Association for Immediate Care and South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust Special Recognition Award in 2022 and is still responding in his community even in his retirement.  

However, Dr Hillebrandt said: “I find I am taking a more advisory role at an incident but pride myself in keeping my practical skills up to date for the 40% of incidents where I am the first medical provider on scene in our rural corner of Devon.”

Dr Hillebrandt has also made a big contribution to Mountain Medicine in the UK and further afield. He was instrumental in setting up the UK Diploma of Mountain medicine and has championed medical care in remote environments. 

Dr Hillebrandt continues to be passionate about the future for the voluntary schemes, especially BASICS Devon: “With an increasing paramedic skillset we can still bring the added value of years of experience and an ability to take a long-term overall view to any incident.  

Looking ahead I am keen for BASICS Devon to recruit more medics to ensure a future service. It involves some commitment, a willingness to train and a willingness to work with no financial reward. Having said that one cannot put a value on the boost to one’s professional confidence to deal with acute medicine and trauma, to the satisfaction of a patient’s care being enhanced and the feeling of being part of a valuable team of doctors, ambulance staff and the police and fire services. As I get older, I have a vested interest in ensuring I can get the care I feel should be available to all, especially in rural areas a long way from the nearest district general hospital.”      

A BASICS Devon spokesperson added: “BASICS Devon is very proud of David and his contribution to the charity, patients and the team and it will be a sad day when the time comes for David to hang up his response kit, but that day is not quite here yet!”