Working Life: Round the racetrack
Dr Ian Ward describes a day as a volunteer doctor at an athletics event
Profile - Dr Ian Ward
Roles - Lead GP at Southampton and Portsmouth urgent treatment centres; regional professional lead for St John Ambulance; crowd doctor for Southampton Football Club; board member of Wessex Patient Safety Partnership
Hours worked - 40 at urgent treatment centres. Variable hours volunteering as event cover, crowd doctor and in managerial roles at St John Ambulance
It’s a relatively relaxed start to the day. Often I have to be on the road by 5am or 6am.
I set off for Loseley House, near Guildford, for the Hog’s Back Road Race – an 11.4km race around the Loseley Estate and over the Hog’s Back, at the western end of Surrey’s North Downs.
It doesn’t take long to realise I’ll need to wrap up well – the cold wind is biting. I find the St John Ambulance base for the event.
Some 700 runners from local athletic and running clubs are participating, and since this is the first time St John Ambulance is covering the race, we come especially well equipped. There’s a treatment centre at the start and another at the midway point. We also have a four-wheel-drive ambulance and a couple of cycle responders, and equipment and drugs for advanced life support. As well as this, there’s a full range of volunteers – cadets; first-aiders; advanced first-aiders; emergency transport attendants; a paramedic; a nurse and me, the event doctor. I’ve experienced many of these roles. I originally joined St John Ambulance as a cadet 37 years ago.
By the time the starter gun goes off, we’re all set up, with the mobile resources already heading out around the route.
This is usually when I’m pulling together a team for resuscitation and allocating roles. If we have enough time, we’ll practise a few drills to help the first-aiders feel prepared.
We dispatch a team of first-aiders and a couple of cadets to the finish line, just as the first runners are coming through.
This can be the busiest team at events, particularly larger races, such as the Great South Run. At these, there are 20,000 runners, not all of them well-prepared.
Our first casualty of the day is a man with cramp. I ask for the least experienced of our trained first-aiders to treat the people who approach us for help. Our volunteer first-aiders put in hours of training, but rarely see patients. So the larger events, particularly with healthcare professionals, are great opportunities for first-aiders to gain hands-on experience, with support and back-up.
I reflect on how rewarding I find it to work alongside volunteers who have no medical background, and see their skills and confidence grow.
My role is often in the background, keeping an eye on what’s going on and stepping in where needed.
All the runners have finished, and we have one more male patient with cramp.
There was also a scare when a man was found unresponsive lying in wet grass, but he was just cooling off and didn’t want to get up!
Our cycle responders arrive back, complaining about the hill they just had to ride up.
Although we only saw a couple of minor casualties this time, St John Ambulance volunteers can be the difference between life and death. These events couldn’t take place without such charities, whose volunteers work hard to keep everyone safe.
In almost four decades of volunteering with St John Ambulance, I’ve covered everything from local fêtes to international athletics and the London Marathon, seeing standards continually rise and our volunteers’ skills growing year on year.
More than 20 years ago, I introduced defibrillators in Hampshire for first-aiders to use. What was new, exciting technology has since become a routine piece of kit, and all our first-aiders are now trained in them.
I look forward to seeing how our leading standards of public event healthcare will develop across the next decade.
While most of our volunteers aren’t healthcare professionals, we have roles for paramedics, nurses and doctors. Contact St John Ambulance at sja.org.uk/volunteer if you’d like to join me.