THE head of A&E at Basildon Hospital said he was “astounded” by the dedication of staff in the wake of the Tilbury container tragedy.

More than 50 workers gave up their weekends and holidays to help treat 18 seriously ill Afghans found in a container on Saturday morning.

The rush of casualties was declared a major incident by the hospital – something that only happens on average once every seven years.

A decontamination centre was set up outside after staff were initially told the patients were suffering methane poisoning.

Robert Ghosh, clinical director for emergency care at Basildon Hospital, said: “It was a very tough day for everyone, but a lot of staff have said incidents of this type are why they train in A&E.

“As soon as we were made aware of the incident at Tilbury we contacted a select number of people at the hospital to see if they were available.

“What was really astounding was that hundreds of off-duty staff rang in to say they were available to work.

“Of those we needed about 50.”

The hospital initially established a decontamination centre following reports the patients could be suffering gas poisoning.

Mr Ghosh said: “Most of the casualties were suffering hypothermia and severe dehydration.

Their treatment was relatively short. We had to give them rehydration solutions and warm them up.”

The incident lasted several hours. Mr Ghosh thanked the local community for their support.

He said: “We would like to send a really strong message of thanks to other people who were in A&E on that day. They were very understanding. They waited and many offered to come back later.”