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Profile: Festival nursing

Profile: Festival nursing

Each year 140,000 people leave their homes during the last week in June and travel to Worthy Farm in Somerset to participate in a four-day long party otherwise known as Glastonbury Festival. A city the size of Luton is created from scratch and then dismantled when the party is over. For most people who attend the celebration, the event is a joyous occasion. However as with any party in any city, there may be some people who are injured or become unwell for a variety of reasons. Luckily there are healthcare facilities provided on site.

Festival Medical Services (FMS) was started in 1979 at Glastonbury Festival by Dr. Chris Howes, a local GP. This very small scale operation has grown over time into three minor injury units (MIUs), a number of first aid posts, two stage crews, a ‘field hospital’ and an ambulance/paramedic team. Aspects of the service were approved for the first time in 2008 by the Care Quality Commission.

Volunteer crews include doctors, paramedics, drivers, radiographers, physiotherapists, podiatrists, first-aiders, dentists, stores, reception staff, pharmacists and nurses. In order to support these volunteers there are additional crews to ensure the hospital and MIUs are fit for purpose, to provide drivers, and to keep the FMS camping area in good order. In 2016, 116 nurses will be volunteering at the festival in the MIUs and field hospital. Additionally there are nurses volunteering for the stages crew, and others who volunteer as first aiders or in support posts. FMS has also been providing emergency healthcare at Reading Festival since 1993 as well as a number of smaller events. A team of around 60 nurses is needed for Reading Festival, as there are fewer people attending on a smaller site with one field hospital and only one MIU.

All the people who work for Festival Medical Services providing healthcare are volunteers, there are only three paid staff administrators who work part-time. FMS is a registered charity, with the money raised by providing services at events going to a number of charities both in the UK and abroad. The majority of the charities supported by FMS are either healthcare projects, or education projects that are linked to healthcare. Donations have been made to at least 22 small charities. Among the charities supported recently is the Lalibela Trust which received help to build health-care posts in remote areas and part-funded a maternity unit in Ethiopia; and the Kambeng Trust, supported to provide health care to a village in the Gambia, including funding of an ambulance, driver, and five healthcare staff. Eight charities received help last year, with £85,000 divided between them.

Many nurses who volunteer for the organisation are initially attracted by free entry to Glastonbury Festival, but once they become involved with the organisation their involvement grows and a number have made trips to remote parts of India and Africa to see how the FMS donations they raise are being put to good use.

New nurse volunteers at Glastonbury Festival are surprised by the variety of conditions the patients present with. The volunteers arrive expecting to see people who are worse for wear following too much alcohol, or misuse of drugs, and they do. However, they don’t expect to see the number of older people presenting with an exacerbation of a chronic long-term condition. There are always a few people who attend the medical centre, and even though they have lived with a long-term condition for years, they have forgotten to bring their regular medication with them to the festival. Often these are people with asthma requesting inhalers, but people with diabetes have turned up without their insulin. Luckily for them FMS have two fully equipped pharmacies on site. There are also a small number who are on ongoing treatment and attend the medical centre for this – these have included young people with cystic fibrosis, and regular dressings for people for people with a pilonidal sinus.

The notorious weather at Glastonbury plays a big part in the conditions that people present with – if the weather is hot and sunny (which doesn’t happen that often!) people can turn up with anything from mild dehydration to serious sunburn or heat stroke. If as is more usual, the weather is poor and the ground is wet and muddy, people arrive with trips, slips, breaks and sprains. During one particularly busy night last year the senior nurse on duty said the team had put on about thirty back slabs. The healthcare team are always on the look-out for any increase in the number of people presenting with vomiting and diarrhoea as that might imply there was a problem with sanitation or a food outlet on-site. The nurses who volunteer for the mental health team are also alert to the potential dangers of illicit drug use at all the events – there are no facilities for testing for drugs on site so people are treated symptomatically.

The nurses who volunteer are a mix of experienced emergency department nurses, intensive care nurses, emergency nurse practitioners, nurses from MIUs or walk-in centres, practice nurses and a small number of more generalist nurses. All the nurses who volunteer on the stages crew are also expected to have an advance life support certificate.

The stage team provides emergency cover on the two biggest stages at Glastonbury and Reading, and is managed by nurse Zoe Edwards (see Case Study).

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Preparations are in place to anticipate the mass amount of people ready to flock the music festival scene in Glastonbury this summer. This includes the on-site medical help, so what is it really like nursing at such a big event?