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BIG Interview: Olympic Polyclinic Manager

Louise Naughton sits down with former nurse Andrew Rees post Olympics to find out all about his time as Manager the London 2012 Olympic polyclinic and how is preparing to reopen its doors for the Paralympics.

How have you found the experience of working as the manager of the London 2012 Olympic polyclinic?

It has been so exciting. The build up to the Games has been amazing and on day one, everything got very real and very scary that we knew we had to deliver this service for so many athletes. It has been very surreal, it doesn't feel like it has come to an end. It is probably one of the most exciting jobs I have done working with a massive variety of volunteers has been really really good. It just shows the medical services off in the best light.

How did you prepare to open the doors to the athletes?

We had a soft opening where we tested out the polyclinic in full before the Games began. Everything was ready and the night before we had an army of cleaners in to thoroughly clean the place. As we couldn't get into the building while it was being built, it was very difficult to get things to be developed in the way we wanted to work and different departments had their own ways of working. From day one, our facilities were well used. We had hundreds of people visiting.

How was the polyclinic received by the athletes and their medical teams?

There was a huge level of interest among the athletes and their medical staff to come and see the polyclinic and introduce themselves.

We also had a formal briefing day where we briefed all the athletes' chief medical doctors and they are given the Olympic health programme and leaflets. But a lot of them wanted to see for themselves, and many said they hadn't seen a polyclinic like it at any other Games.

The athletes loved it because no matter how many patients we saw a day, the polyclinic never felt busy. We didn't want the athletes feeling cramped so floor one was an athletes dedicated floor where we provided most of their services.

What was your average admission rate during the Games?

Our opening times were 6:30am until 11:00pm. We expected to see around 200 people a day in the polyclinic and while some days have been more and others have been less - the average was as we expected. The admission rate was very much driven around the competition. When you know the stadium is full if there is a huge event on, everything goes quiet for the village and then as soon as everyone is let out of the stadium, everything gets busy again. Non-competition days also tended to be a lot busier. Interestingly, most of the services that we planned to be busy were busy so we were not shocked or taken aback that dentistry would have more patients than it did. The planning went well and we were able to move volunteers around to ease the strain on various services, which was great as they were so adaptable.

What was the busiest service at the polyclinic?

They have all been busy in their own ways. Dentistry, optometry, sports medicine has been busy. The first couple of days sports medicine was very quiet but there was no injuries among the athletes because they hadn't been out training or competing in those days. When competition started, they started flowing in. Some athletes had some pretty amazing team doctors with them, others don't. Sports massage, which was included as a service in the polyclinic for the first time in any Games, was busy in their own right. There is not one service or one piece of kit that hasn't been used.

Has the polyclinic succeeded in keeping care located within the centre and out of NHS hospitals?

We set our goal at treating 90-95% of cases in the polyclinic and I think we have easily treated that. Some days we haven't needed the hospitals at all. I don't have any governance over people that just walked into A&E, which clearly happened. We have had to send very few people out of the polyclinic to be treated at an NHS hospital.

What was the culture of working at the polyclinic?

A lot of people have said it reminds them of the old days where hospital wards used to be friendly, because everyone here is so friendly to one another. You can walk between departments and talk to people and not have to hide behind emails. A lot of the volunteers have said how great it is not to have access to emails because they are not getting bogged down. In NHS wards, nurses sometimes get stuck in their own ways but working at the polyclinic has forced them out of their comfort zone. A lot of the staff were very nervous about working here but the environment has meant they have really enjoyed it. We have had nurses and doctors leaving here in tears because they have had such a good time.

What were the biggest challenges you faced?

There were no challenges that presented themselves that we were not anticipating because we did so many tests beforehand and we worked through everything. We were really expecting the absolute worst around the country and it hasn't happened. For me, the whole place has been business as usual.

Did you get star struck or inspired by coming into contact with so many London 2012 athletes?

The volunteers, especially the young ones, got really excited by seeing the athletes or the Royals milling about in the village. It is pretty amazing seeing the athletes, and you don't really appreciate they are so close until you sit back and think about it. The staff have been very professional but they are treating some of the most elite athletes in the world and are loving it. I'm sure some of them got star struck once or twice. As for me, I'm not allowed out of my office that much! But I have seen the athletes around and with a lot of them, there is that 'wow' factor. You don't get used to it but they are all on your doorstep and you have to not let on that you are star struck to make them feel as comfortable as possible.

Is there anything you have learned at the polyclinic during the Olympic Games that you will change for the Paralympics?

We purposely planned separately for both Games because they bring their own challenges. The patient flow is going to be totally different. We are going to rejig the polyclinic around slightly to make it more user friendly. There are some areas that are going to have to move downstairs. We are bringing a lot of kit into our A&E department and we will refresh the whole place now we are closed so we can give the Paralympians the service they deserve. It is important we start again. We have got a whole new set of volunteer staff and we need to get them ready and trained up.

Has the role of manager of the London 2012 Olympic polyclinic lived up to your expectations?

It has been better than I expected. I never thought I would be in a position to operationally manage such a big service and I was absolutely scared at the beginning. It has been an absolute dream to be part of it. Coming into contact with all the great volunteers - the backbone of the NHS - has been really interesting. It was a huge challenge but I've loved it.

What are your plans post Paralympics?

I have got a month to close down the polyclinic and transform back to how it was. Then I'm not really sure, I'll probably take a little break and then see what comes up. I really want to see the polyclinic used to its full potential and want to be heavily involved with transforming it into a state of the art health centre if I can.