Intended for healthcare professionals


Doctors and the Olympics

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 02 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2956
  1. Sue Learner, freelance health journalist, Wiltshire, UK
  1. suelearner{at}


Sue Learner talks to three doctors about their involvement in this summer’s Olympic Games

Doctors have been queuing up to become part of the huge volunteer army of medics helping out at the 2012 Olympics. After undergoing a rigorous selection process, over 5000 doctors have been selected. They will be taking holiday or unpaid leave so they can volunteer their services, but some people have asked whether these highly qualified medics should instead be paid.

Tom Crisp, a consultant sports physician who has been involved with selecting the doctors, said, “The non-payment side is a problem, and when we first started planning and deciding on key roles I wanted to pay them. Some of the cooks are paid, and the drivers are paid, so I think the medics should be paid, but it is a tradition for medics not to be paid.”

The doctors will be on hand to treat athletes and spectators at the games. Each venue will have at least two general practitioners with sports medicine experience and two paramedics on hand, as well as first aiders, mostly from St John Ambulance and the British Red Cross. The level of emergency cover will depend on the risk of the event. Medical care will be provided at a polyclinic in the main Olympic village, and there will be a 24 hour emergency service.

The polyclinic will provide primary care, sport and exercise medicine, physiotherapy, emergency services, ophthalmology, dental services, imaging, pharmacy, podiatry, and other medical specialties.

The selected doctors have undergone extra training and have taken part at test events, which are large scale dry run events held at each of the venues.

Tom Crisp

consultant sports physician

Tom Crisp runs clinics at Springfield Hospital in Chelmsford and at London Independent Hospital in east London. He is also an honorary senior lecturer at the Royal London Hospital.

Helping out at the 2012 Olympic Games is “a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he says, “as the Olympics certainly won’t come to the UK again in my lifetime. I will be working for 10 days at the Olympics and 10 days at the Paralympics. I am self employed so it is not really possible for me to do any more than 20 days.”

The selection process “was very fair,” he says. “We had training by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to carry out the selection process, and there was a group of around seven of us that interviewed everyone. I had to apply like everyone else and go through the selection process. There is generic training for everyone, and medics will also get specialised training.”

Crisp has also been involved with setting up the polyclinic, and during the games he will be helping out at the clinic treating sportsmen and women with sports related medical problems.

He started his medical career as a general practitioner but left in 1990 to specialise as a sports physician. As a member of the organising committee for the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002 he has considerable experience in helping to organise medical support for high profile sporting events.

He travelled with British teams to the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 as a headquarters medical officer and to the Paralympics in Sydney in 2000 as chief medical officer. He was also chief medical officer for three World University Games from 1993 to 1997.

“I am taking part because I want to be part of what will hopefully be the best Olympics ever. There will be a lot of things which will make London quite exceptional. The facilities are fantastic, and Britain is good at arranging sports events. We have got things well organised. The atmosphere at the games is going to be great, and to be part of that will be fantastic,” he says.

Kevin Mackway-Jones

consultant in emergency medicine at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Kevin Mackway-Jones is also professor of emergency medicine at Manchester Metropolitan University and medical director of the North West Ambulance Service.

During the 2012 Olympics Mackway-Jones will be deputy clinical lead for emergency medical services at the various sports venues. “There are three deputy leads at the Olympics, and we will be helping to coordinate medical services. I was the medical director in the Manchester Commonwealth Games, and I have a fairly unique experience in running medical services at multisports events,” he says.

Mackway-Jones will be volunteering his services for 10 days at the Olympics, and he also believes that the issue of payment is a “really difficult question.” He says, “When I was medical director at the Commonwealth Games, I felt afterwards that key roles should be paid. Some volunteers are treating elite athletes, and the litigation risk is enormous. I think, however, that many volunteers do it because it is a really good opportunity to use their skills at this level. The world of elite athletes is something people don’t often come into contact with.”

Doctors who volunteer are extremely specialised, but the fact that they are volunteers makes it more of a risky venture, says Mackway-Jones. As “volunteers they are under no contractual obligation to turn up on the day—and this, in itself, is a risk, as they are required to be present for many events to be allowed to take place.”

However, he also thinks that because of the voluntary aspect “it will be a unique experience. There is a feeling about an army of volunteers that is very positive and very focused. It is very different to a conscripted army or a paid army.”

You would think one of the huge benefits of being a volunteer would be getting to see some of the Olympics events. But Mackway-Jones is quick to dispel this myth. “Unfortunately volunteers don’t get to see anything of the games. If you are trackside, you may get to see something. At the Commonwealth Games all I saw was 10 minutes of the mountain bikers.”

The army of volunteer medics is vital to the games, and Mackway-Jones believes that if it wasn’t for the volunteers the games wouldn’t be able to run. Or, he adds, without the volunteers “it would certainly be a lot more expensive.”

Kate Hutchings

registrar in sport and exercise medicine at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust

Kate Hutchings will be part of the medical support team working at the aquatic centre during the Olympic Games. She will be at the poolside looking after the swimming and diving teams. “I will be attending the orientation and medical training in preparation for the games over the next few months and am volunteering for two weeks during the games,” she says.

She volunteered to be part of the medical team as “it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to work at a home games, and as a new specialist in sport and exercise medicine [for me] it will be a fantastic and invaluable experience.”

Sport and exercise medicine has been growing and gaining recognition as a discipline around the world. In Britain it achieved official status in 2005, when the chief medical officer for England, Liam Donaldson, promised to develop the specialty as a commitment to the London 2012 Olympics.

As a sport and exercise medicine registrar, Hutchings has worked at a number of Olympic test venues over the past year. The test venues are designed to test field of play, results and scoring systems, and medical and emergency procedures.

“The medical teams include physiotherapists, emergency practitioners, doctors, paramedics, and sports masseurs, bringing together specialised skills and drawing on individual expertise.” At each test event medical volunteers worked in teams and were prepared with briefings at the start of each day, with protocols regarding acute on-site medical care, transportation of patients, and communication procedures. It was good to experience the team work and dedication of colleagues from a wide variety of disciplines, she says.

“One of my current roles entails working at the English Institute of Sport as part of the medical team looking after British athletes. This has provided a unique opportunity to be involved in the medical care of our athletes in the lead up to the games and experience the preparation that is taking place,” says Hutchings.

BMA information resource for doctors providing medical care at sporting events

The BMA warns: “Doctors may have to provide medical treatment in situations outside their normal day-to-day role and therefore need to be well-prepared, properly equipped and able to adapt to these challenges. Unfortunately, a doctor may potentially face the risk of a complaint or legal action if the level of medical provision was thought to be inadequate, or if harm results from the treatment provided. Doctors can take a number of steps to reduce these risks. These include ensuring their skills are up to date, that they have the appropriate knowledge of the sport or event they are participating in and that they have discussed their indemnity needs with their medical defence organisation and the event organiser.” (


  • Competing interests: None declared.

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