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'We've shown the rest of the world that we deliver fantastic healthcare in this country'

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Pam Venning was in charge of medical services for both athletes and spectators at the Olympic Games.

Some 10,500 athletes and 7.7 million spectators made it to the Olympic Games in London over the past couple of weeks. And it was Pam Venning and her team’s job to ensure their health was looked after.

As head of medical services for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Dr Venning was in charge of 2,900 healthcare staff in 32 roles, including volunteer games makers. They worked in three polyclinics in London, Weymouth and Portland and Egham in Surrey for the athletes’ villages or bases, as well as in medical rooms in every competition. That was a total of 142 medical rooms, including those for spectators. Many offered services for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The staff also worked in training venue rooms in the build-up to the games.

A nurse who qualified 40 years ago, Dr Venning recognises the importance of nurses in event medical teams. “Nurses are great at dealing with spectators because of their ability to solve problems, sort things out and deal with people. The 500 nurses were brilliant. Many big football teams use a lot of nurses on match days. It works fantastically well,” she says.

Dr Venning says that borrowing from experience and expertise in other sporting events and former Olympics helped her run the medical services smoothly.

She started the job five and a half years ago.

“I had taken a sabbatical from my previous job to run the athletes’ medical centre at the Commonwealth Games in 2002,” she says.

“My latest job was to set up, commission and deliver healthcare services for the Olympics and Paralympics. We had best practice from other Olympics and a guide for each country, as well as excellent language services, which were important for getting accurate information for diagnosis and treatment.

“We were lucky in this country in that we had a good pool of expertise around how to do this for big sporting occasions.”

It proved wise to borrow from the past. The demand on medical services mirrored that of previous games.

Work started slowly with two weeks of training for the athletes before the Olympic Games started. The 200 visits a day to each polyclinic rose to up to 700 a day during the middle weekend.

“With spectators, we administered the usual first aid for blisters and insect bites. We were set up to cope with everything from sticking on plasters to dealing with serious issues.

“What kept me smiling during the past two weeks is that all the planning worked. We did 43 test events over the year and risk assessments of every centre. Nothing happened that we hadn’t expected.”

What’s also kept her smiling is the “wonderful team” including nurses managing 38 of the medical centres.

“The pride and commitment of the nurse volunteers was amazing,” says Dr Venning. “They were 100% dedicated to the job and worked tirelessly to deliver an excellent healthcare service.”

They enjoyed a short break as the polyclinics closed on Tuesday 14 August and reopened on Monday 20 when the paralympic athletes arrived for their week-long training and orientation.

“Accessibility was part of our planning for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games so we didn’t need to change anything between the two. We treat everyone as elite athletes.”

Dr Venning says her Olympic highlights were watching the athletes compete and seeing the volunteers’ skills and commitment.

“We’ve shown the rest of the world that we deliver fantastic healthcare in this country, and I’m tremendously proud of that.”

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