Domhnall MacAuley: GMC and the Olympics

Domhnall MacauleyEver wonder what it would be like to be a team doctor at a major sporting event like the Olympic Games? Drama and excitement; giving vital medical support to bring the team or athlete to victory, pushing you into media spotlight, basking in the reflected glory, the envy of your colleagues. Think again. Most team doctors spend their time back in the village at a medical centre in the athlete’s quarters far from the razzamatazz of the Games. Like many of the backroom staff, their success is measured in how little you see of them. A successful Games is one where the athletes perform optimally, without medical mishap, injury, or disadvantage. And, as the athletes celebrate their success, the medical team pack their bags and enjoy the quiet satisfaction of a job well done. 

Planning and preparation are the key. It’s not easy to prepare in advance for a travelling patient list of elite athletes competing in very different sports at venues often considerable distances apart, never mind the difficulties of transport, communication, and pharmacy. Admittedly these are a young healthy group, but the stakes are very high and this may be the single most important event in their lives. You must anticipate not just any individual’s injury or illness but the risk, however remote, of an outbreak of vomiting and diarrhoea, a respiratory virus, or skin infection across the team. It is not quite the glamour gig many might think. On call 24 hours a day for a group of high demand patients where an incremental loss of performance is personal disaster. The only reward is facilitating others’ success.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) must also think of the details. Most of the teams competing in London 2012 will bring their own medical staff, qualified and registered in their own country. So, quietly and well in advance, LOCOG, together with the General Medical Council, has been looking at temporary registration for the approximately 1000 doctors from across the world expected for the London Olympics. As it would be unlawful for Olympic or Paralympic team doctors to practise without registration, they will be considered for special purpose registration under Section 27B of the Medical Act (1983), introduced in 2007, which restricts team doctors to treat only their athletes, undertaking only relevant medical practice, and only for the duration of the Games. And, in a special amendment on 19 July, the GMC, waived the fee.

All the pieces of the jigsaw are coming together. While the media focuses on athletes competing for the last few selection places and spectators scrambling for tickets, there are many others contributing to the future success of the Games. Like the builders and bus drivers, planners and police, and thousands of volunteers, others play their part. Even the GMC.

Domhnall MacAuley is primary care editor, BMJ