No hope for UK stance on Gaza, British surgeon says

A medic who volunteered to help the wounded in the enclave is frustrated by his government's response to the conflict

A Palestinian at Nasser Hospital holds a child wounded in an Israeli strike. Reuters
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A British surgeon fears that the UK government will not act to save healthcare services in Gaza, after meeting Foreign Secretary David Cameron last week.

Prof Nick Maynard, a surgeon in Oxford who also teaches at the university, recently returned from Gaza where he went with a team of British doctors to work at Al Aqsa Hospital.

He met Lord Cameron and Development Minister Andrew Mitchell privately last week to give an account of what he saw there.

This included operating in overcrowded rooms, sometimes on days when there was no running water or available blood supplies.

“I told them the stark details of what’s going on,” Prof Maynard said during an online seminar hosted by British charity Balfour Projects.

“The response was profoundly disappointing. I do not have any hope at all that it has made a difference.”

Less than half of Gaza's hospitals – 14 of 36 – are functional and only partly so, according to UN figures.

Hospitals have been damaged by shelling, or lack the fuel and supplies to operate.

Military action preventing aid deliveries

Although limited amounts of aid has been entering Gaza, it cannot be delivered to hospitals because Israel's military offensive makes it unsafe.

“Aid is always welcome, but none of it can be distributed while there is military action,” Prof Maynard said.

“I don’t know if our government understands that."

Israel has been preparing a ground operation into Rafah in southern Gaza – where more than 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering – despite warnings from its western allies.

Lord Cameron expressed his "deep concern" about the possible offensive in a social media post last week.

Prof Maynard feared that such an operation would lead to the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza, a move that Egyptian leaders have said they would not tolerate.

“There is nowhere to go … other than into the Sinai,” he said.

Although Prof Maynard has been going on training missions to Gaza for years, he was not prepared for what he saw on this trip.

“When I went into Gaza on Christmas day, I really thought I was prepared for it. And I wasn’t,” he said.

As they approached the Rafah border crossing from Egypt, he saw hundreds of aid trucks lined up outside, waiting to get in. A truck full of nappies had been turned away, Prof Maynard said.

He showed pictures taken during his time at Al Aqsa hospital, of his team operating on a six-year-old boy with an open chest wound, while other children with fatal injuries were being left to die on the floor near by.

“There is nowhere for people to die other than lying on the floor in the ED [emergency department],” he said.

He does not know if the boy survived, as the hospital was too crowded and he couldn’t find him the next day.

Prof Maynard feared that widespread malnutrition and disease would spread without adequate food, clean water and medical supplies.

Deaths from these quarters would overshadow the number of people killed in air strikes, he said.

Israeli bombs landed within five metres of where his team of British doctors were staying in Mawasi – a designated safe zone, he said.

“That is clear evidence of the IDF targeting a house where they knew UK doctors were living," Prof Maynard said.

He continues to receive updates from his colleagues and friends in Gaza, with whom he has long-standing relationships.

Doctors at the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, which has been surrounded by the Israeli military for days, received an evacuation notice from the IDF this morning, Prof Maynard said.

Yet a quadcopter drone had already entered the hospital through the window and shot at the brother of a friend of his.

Palestinians in Gaza had lost hope, with many wanting to flee for good, marking a change to his earlier encounters.

“They all want to go now. They’ve been broken,” Prof Maynard said.

The healthcare system in Gaza will take “years” to rebuild and “billions of dollars”, he said, calling for better co-ordination among aid agencies.

“Aid agencies are working in isolation and not together,” he said.

The British charity Medical Aid for Palestinians, with which Prof Maynard works, had started speaking with other UK agencies to better co-ordinate their response.

Asked whether he had seen evidence of Hamas operating from Gaza’s hospitals, a claim made by the Israeli military, he said had not.

“No I didn’t. In two weeks at Al Aqsa, I went into every single department repeatedly,” Prof Maynard said.

“Over the years I’ve never seen any evidence in any hospital. I have no idea what’s going on in the tunnels."

Updated: February 14, 2024, 1:04 PM