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Keeping festival goers healthy and happy

With millions of UK music fans living it up at festivals, looking after their health and wellbeing has become an increasingly important part of the prescription for organising a major event.

Music festivals are now the go-to experience for everyone, from teens and twenty-somethings to ageing rockers. And as visitor numbers have grown, so has the need for on-site services, including teams of health professionals, ready to respond to anything from heat exhaustion to panic attacks. 

So who are these dedicated people working from tents and caravans across the country? Almost all of them are volunteers, taking a short break from their 'day jobs' as doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and mental health nurses. Of course, many are also music fans, drawn by the prospect of free festival entry. But once they've done a stint or two at Glastonbury or V, they tend to catch the volunteering bug and many get involved in a wider range of projects, including international aid missions.

The leading supplier of medical staff for UK music festivals is Festival Medical Services (FMS). They began life in 1979 as a small outfit providing medical cover for Glastonbury, when the festival only attracted around 12,000 visitors. This year's attendance was around 135,000 and the FMS operation comprised three minor injury units, a number of first aid posts, a 'field hospital' and a team of paramedics. Other volunteer health professionals include radiographers, physiotherapists, podiatrists and pharmacists.

FMS also has two 'stage crews' who provide emergency medical response to members of the audience at the festival's two main stages. Nurse Zoe Edwards is a stage crew manager and spoke about her experiences as a festival volunteer in a recent interview with Nursing in Practice: "I have a passion for thinking on my feet, an interest in major incident management and pre-hospital medicine, which all combines to help me in my role as the stage co-ordinator (and a love of music and camping helps)."

The FMS mental health team provides 24-hour cover for acute mental health issues at both Glastonbury and the Reading Rock Festival. However, it's not just NHS health professionals who help safeguard festival goers' mental wellbeing. Charities such as the Samaritans are also on hand to provide support, particularly for those affected by drugs or alcohol. "It's not just the fans we speak to, " said lead volunteer Janet Horsfield in a recent interview with Third Force News. "It's also traders and others like security people. Many of them are working away for a season and some can be escaping issues at home."

Chill Welfare is a social enterprise that maintains a presence at festivals to 'keep people safe by reducing the harms caused by alcohol and other drugs, support mental wellbeing and promote sexual health'. All their staff are volunteers and most are either medical professionals or work in the field of drugs and substance abuse.

According to Mintel, the live music and festivals market grew by almost 50% between 2010 and 2015. The website eFestivals lists over 1,000 events across the UK and UK Music estimates that around 3.5 million people went to a music festival in 2015.That means a huge number of volunteers providing medical services, from FMS doctors and nurses to St John's Ambulance first-aiders. Festival organisers owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

If you'd like to volunteer with FMS, visit their website.

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