The West Midlands is hosting the Commonwealth Games this summer.
Preparing and managing the games is a huge undertaking involving a variety of organizations across the UK and the Commonwealth.
One of the partners ’most important tasks during this huge event is to keep 6,600 contestants from 72 countries and their teams, about 40,000 volunteers, visitors (1 million tickets sold) and the local community healthy.
At UKHSA we are key to this, and this is the first time our new agency has managed public health risks at an event of this scale, although we have a long experience of tackling “mass rallies” like the 2012 Olympics through predecessor organizations.
The UKHSA Field Service Epidemiology Team has an important role to play in detecting, preventing and managing infectious disease outbreaks that may be associated with major events such as the Commonwealth Games.
Our team consists of consultants, scientists and analysts who investigate any type and cause of disease and how they affect communities.
As field epidemiologists, we carefully monitor surveillance data from infection reports and it serves as an early warning measure for evidence of infectious diseases such as covid, norovirus or measles.
If an early warning is detected, we take action to prevent further spread of the infection to spectators and athletes from the Games or local West Midlands residents.
We do not do this in isolation. Our team has been working with UKHSA and multi-agency partners to prepare for the Games for over two years so that we are ready to tackle any challenge.
Key partners include the NHS and UKHSA laboratories that work primarily to provide us with timely results so that we can monitor laboratory reports of infectious diseases.
We work with the UKHSA’s Real-Time Syndrome Surveillance Team. The Syndrome Surveillance Index gives us important situational awareness. This includes, for example, calling NHS 111 to report to the emergency department or report diarrhea or vomiting with a specific condition of shortness of breath.
One advantage of this syndrome monitoring is that we don’t have to wait for a formal laboratory diagnosis – the symptoms presented by patients can give us an early warning that something is happening. This type of surveillance was used really effectively during the London 2012 Olympics and has now become regular for public gatherings.
We also work very closely and have a good relationship with the Games Organizing Committee and the key to all our partnerships is to ensure that we have access to accurate information and timely awareness of any health-related incidents so that we can support feedback.
For example, if athletes get sick during games, they can report to athletes at village polyclinics, or they can see their own team doctor, and both of these options have a reporting system that allows us to monitor the data we need.
In addition to providing surveillance, we provide epidemiological assistance for any incidents and outbreaks. It is like intelligence work, to assess our risk in cases in terms of time, space and person, to monitor the impact of these measures to ensure that any control measures are needed and then they are working.
Planning for such an event brings many challenges, including the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic where we need to guess our guidelines to help everyone live safely with COVID during the game.
In addition, the nature of such a large event poses a challenge for surveillance as the Games Venue spreads geographically across nine West Midlands local authorities and one London local authority (where Velodrome cycling events are held).
But all of this is rewarding work for a healthcare professional, because it’s great to play our part in working to ensure the games are a success.