RAF News

RAF Reserve Nurse Pandemic efforts wins Defence Nurse of the Year for Northern Ireland

Mary holds award with two other aviators.
Squadron Leader Mary B O'Neill is the Defence Nurse of the Year 2022, for Northern Ireland.

A Northern Ireland based RAF Reserve nurse has been awarded the accolade of Defence Nurse of the Year in the region for her remarkable efforts in and out of uniform during the Pandemic.


Squadron Leader Mary O’Neill is a SO2 Medic based with 502 (Ulster) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force on an ADC contract and combines this with continuing work as a bank nurse working in a range of hospital roles. During the resurgent COVID -19 outbreak at the start of 2022, Squadron Leader O’Neill not only found herself volunteering to deliver vaccinations to the vulnerable, but also put herself forward for mobilisation as the key regional liaison person between military medical personnel and managers in Northern Ireland’s main hospitals.

Working in an environment requiring a heightened security awareness, Squadron Leader O’Neill ensured military medics deployed to Belfast under the Military Aid to Civil Authorities (MACA) scheme were able to fit in to hospital needs, were content with their working environment and were able to get to and from work safely.

"Looking after the medics supporting the NHS was challenging and rewarding.

I was the liaison between 38 Brigade (NI Military HQ), the Hospital management, the PSNI and the medics ensuring the fusion of staff worked well. In the hospitals I learned what the needs were, checked the medics skills and experience and then matched up with the needs. I was on site a lot, seeing them at work, getting feedback from them and their NHS colleagues."

Squadron Leader Mary O’Neill
RAF Reserve Nurse

The military medics who came over to Belfast also took a lot of new learning away with them observed Squadron Leader O’Neill.

"What was a plus was that they normally work with and treat a relatively young and fit group of people. But this deployment saw them work with the elderly, with people with complex medical histories and indeed with people at end of life."

Squadron Leader Mary O’Neill
RAF Reserve Nurse

Pre and post mobilisation, Mary was part of a community vaccination team which visited vulnerable people who couldn’t leave their homes as well as those living in nursing homes.

In 2009 she did a nine-month tour in Afghanistan, mobilised as an Army Reservist. In theory, those on ADC contracts cannot be mobilised, however, the decision proved justified as Headquarters 38 Brigade were delighted to learn there was an S02 Medic keen to get involved in Project BAIRD.

Standing in front of a digital presentation screen, Mary holds award, with two others.
Rita Devlin, Mary B O'Neill, and Nicola Dunlop.

Recognising the award Group Captain M J Priestley RRC, Commander Medical (RAF) and DACOS Med Ops said it was, "a fantastic accolade." While Officer Commanding 502 Squadron, Wing Commander McCleery described Squadron Leader O’Neill as, "epitomising the personnel-focused professionalism of today’s reserve forces."

As to her own reaction, Squadron Leader O’Neill says she was overwhelmed when the award was announced at the RCN dinner event and that it has again underlined just how proud she is to be a nurse.

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