STAFF from the Royal Hampshire County Hospital have been visited by a government minister who praised their work in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Lynne Featherstone, a junior minister at the Department for International Development (DFID), was in Winchester yesterday (February 4) to hear a presentation on their efforts to reduce infant mortality in South Sudan, the world’s newest country.

The team of volunteers consisted of midwives, doctors, surgeons, as well as ‘fixers’ – volunteers who helped with maintenance work at the hospital in the city of Yei, in the far south of the country, and outlying primary care centres.

Peter Kemp, a product manager from Bursledon, travelled to Yei as a fixer with his wife Terri, a midwife at RHCH. Mr Kemp said: “It was very basic out there. It was quite challenging but also quite satisfying. With the work I was doing I was tucked away, but some of the conditions in things like the operating theatres were quite upsetting and quite distressing.”

The coalition’s policy of continuing high-levels of overseas aid has sparked fierce debate, but Ms Featherstone said the DIFD grants used to fund the project were essential.

“Anyone who thinks the government aid programme should somehow not be spent, let them come here and talk to the volunteers at the RHCH.

“People say ‘what about people struggling in this country’, and of course that’s an incredible challenge. But when you go to South Sudan and see what it’s like, you see there’s no comparison. It’s making an incredible difference,” she said.

Winchester and Chandler’s Ford MP Steve Brine said after the meeting: “UK aid is about so much more than money and this is an excellent example of that. We have some highly trained and motivated health professionals in Winchester and I for one am really proud they are able to travel to other parts of the world and literally save lives.”

Paediatric consultant Simon Struthers, who co-led the team of volunteers in November, said: “Clearly we go out there to help, but people coming back are then better able to cope with adversity, to cope with change and they are invigorated. You can get stale but this kind of thing gives them added belief about the value of care.”

Formal links between the RHCH and the hospital Yei were established in 2010, since when there have been five trips.