Captain’s pride as she takes  on top naval nursing role

IT WAS a proud day for Captain Ali Hofman as she took the reins of the Royal Navy’s own medical branch.

The 47-year-old took charge of the 270-strong Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service (Qarrns) during a ceremony on veteran warship HMS Victory, in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

And in doing so, the proud naval officer is believed to have become the first person in naval history to begin her career as a student naval nurse at 18 and rise through the ranks to lead the service.

Speaking to The News moments after accepting the new role, a beaming Capt Hofman said: ‘I’m feeling excited, really excited. 

‘I joined the navy as a student naval nurse, I came through HMS Raleigh and I was a Petty Officer before I commissioned.

‘So for me, to have started off as a student naval nurse and to now be heading the leadership of the Qarnns is an amazing moment.

‘We think I’m the first person in history to have been a student naval nurse to have gone right the way through which is a nice achievement.’

She took over the role from Captain Steven Spencer, who is soon to retire from the Senior Service after 28 years in the Royal Navy.

The new position is the latest in a string of achievements for Capt Hofman, who lives in Banbury but will now be based in Portsmouth.

She was the first naval nurse to be a department instructor at HMS Raleigh, the centre where the navy trains all its junior sailors.

After commissioning as an officer she ran a watch in the intensive care unit on RFA Argus during the war in Iraq.

She also did a tour of Afghanistan and led Camp Bastion’s field hospital in 2009, the first woman to do so.

It was her most challenging deployment and saw her dealing first-hand with the true horrors of war by tending trauma injuries and blast wounds on a daily basis during her seven-month stint at the hospital.

She helped to save the lives of wounded British troops, as well as hundreds of American and other coalition personnel, Afghan soldiers and civilians and even wounded Taliban prisoners. 

Her efforts saw her being presented with the Royal Red Cross for her work.

‘I would say that was probably the hardest, most challenging thing I have done but absolutely the most rewarding,’ she said.

Capt Spencer, of Wickham, said the branch was in ‘safe hands’ under the leadership of Capt Hofman.

‘She will be absolutely fantastic in the role,’ he said. ‘She knows the service inside and out. There’s nobody better for the job.’

Qarnns is the nursing wing of the Royal Navy and support military operations at home and abroad.

This year members of the service have been deployed in war-torn South Sudan, supporting a UN hospital in the country.

When not working on tours overseas, the medical experts hone their skills in hospitals up and down the nation, with many working at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham.

The leadership handover ceremony took place on the deck of HMS Victory, which also saw the ship being presented with a Qarnns plaque.

It’s the first time the ship received the plaque and fell on the 102nd anniversary of the birth of  Eliza McKenzie, who founded the nursing

unit.