A gold medal performance

08 September, 2014

Over 11 glorious days this summer, the eyes of the sporting world turned to Glasgow and the XX Commonwealth Games.

More than 600,000 spectators saw 140 Commonwealth records smashed as elite athletes from 71 nations and territories competed across the city and beyond. Team Scotland doubled its medal tally from Delhi, finishing with a record 53 medals and fourth in the medal table behind Canada, Australia and England in top spot.

Alongside the athletes, officials and paid staff, more than 15,000 volunteers, nicknamed ‘Clyde-siders’ gave up their time to help make the games one of the best in living memory. Among the drivers and technical officials, there was a small but dedicated band of dental volunteers based in the polyclinic in the Athlete’s Village in the city’s east end.

Tom Ferris, Scotland’s deputy chief dental officer, was tasked with putting together the dental team and setting up the one-chair surgery within the polyclinic. He said: “I think it went really well, I don’t think that I could have asked for better. There were teething problems right at the very beginning because we had all these dentists coming in to work in a new surgery that they had never seen before and work with a dental nurse they had never worked with before. But once they all got used to their surroundings it ran so smoothly.

“I think that the type of people who volunteer, actually just make things happen. They don’t sit about and wait for someone to sort it, they want to fix things and get working themselves.”

From around 80 volunteer applications, Tom whittled it down to the 18 dentists and 12 nurses who were best qualified and who could commit to a minimum of eight shifts over the games. Of the 30 dental volunteers, 20 were from Scotland, eight from England, one from Wales and one from Ireland.

Twelve dentists and 12 nurses were based in the polyclinic and the remaining six dentists covered the three ‘field of play’ venues – the National Hockey Centre, the SECC for the boxing, judo and wrestling, and Ibrox for the Rugby Sevens competition. To help Tom with the logistics and the set-up of the dental surgery, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHS GGC) seconded dental nurse manager Elaine Hutchison for the period of the games.

Having worked for NHS GGC for nearly 30 years, Elaine, who is currently employed as a dental nurse manager in the public dental service, provided vital support for Tom and the organisers. The dental clinic consisted of a consulting room for triaging patients and a one-chair surgery.

Tom explained: “We had two clinical teams every session because we just didn’t know how busy it was going to be. One clinical team would take patients away and do the triage and a quick check-up in a consulting room. They would make sure they were a genuine case for treatment and then they would be handed over to the clinical team in the surgery.

“The team that were in the surgery were only doing work that could only be carried out in a surgery and it worked out well.”

Elaine said: “In terms of the calculations of equipment it proved to be quite difficult because there were no projected figures of how many patients we would be seeing given to us from previous games.

“However, my background is in Glasgow’s out of hours service, so I sat down with Tom and the managers and projected as if it were a busy out of hours service. So we based it on figures taken from that and our calculations were pretty spot on from a stock point of view. We ordered in the necessary stock on a sale or return basis for the stock that wasn’t used.”

The clinic used The Dental Directory for materials and consumables because the company has the NHS national contract for the Public Dental Service. The firm also provided the clinical tops for all the staff to wear in the surgery. The labwork was carried out by DTS International, whose managing director Sandy Littlejohn provided free mouthguards to any athletes needing them throughout the games. “He had no idea what sort of hit he was going to take on that so it was a great gesture,” said Tom.

Looking back after the event, Elaine said that the success was down in large part to the volunteers. She said: “As far as I was concerned it couldn’t have gone any better. The staff were phenomenal, my job was made so much easier by the staff being so motivated and enthusiastic. They were all really professional, they all mucked in and it was just a really good team spirit.”

And, despite a few logistical problems regarding accreditation for lab deliveries and decontamination equipment runs, the dental clinic was seen as a massive success. “The volunteers are the people who will just make it work and I take my hat off to them,” said Tom.

“They hadn’t a clue what was coming in to them. Even the polyclinic guys, they would see the trauma from the rugby sevens the next day and they would have to clean it up and re-splint it properly if the splint that had been done pitchside had to be replaced. They didn’t know what was coming in next, but they took to it like ducks to water.”

Jim’s experience was a real knock out

Dundee graduate Jim Oliphant was one of the six dentists posted to the three ‘field of play’ venues during the games. As a former amateur rugby player with Edinburgh Accies, he was given two shifts at the Rugby Sevens competition based at Ibrox.

The tournament was one of the stand-out successes of the games, with more than 170,000 people attending over just two days. Jim was pitchside for the two afternoon sessions and, as he explained, he was kept busy: “It was brilliant, a pitchside view the whole time, but I was actually kept really busy. I had quite a lot to do and see – for example, we had a few people with teeth knocked out.

“There was one guy, a Kenyan player (right), who got an elbow to the face which resulted in subluxed teeth and fractured anterior maxilla. It was quite a nasty injury but a good opportunity to practice my skills.

“We had a few others, a couple of players to suture – an ear and a chin, things like that. Not strictly dental relevant but it was really good.”

And, as well as the dental injuries, Jim and his medical colleagues were also required to learn some new skills, specifically dealing with cervical spine injuries. “We spent a fair bit of time rehearsing how to deal with someone with a serious spinal or neck injury and how to stabilise that – how to get them off the pitch without doing them any harm.

“The Scottish rugby doctor, James Robson, was adamant that we practised that ad nauseum so we could do it without any possible problems. It seemed boring at the time but it really made you realise how dedicated these guys are and how important it was.”

Hollie goes the extra 400 miles

Hollie Limmer could have a strong case for being one of the most travelled members of the dental team, having made the journey up from Lowestoft in Suffolk, a distance of more than 400 miles.

A dental nurse for the last 12 years, Hollie is also a keen hockey player and she jumped at the chance to volunteer in 2012 when the Olympics came to London. Spurred on by that experience, she put in her application for Glasgow as soon as she could.

She said: “After the Olympics, which was such an amazing experience, I thought that I now had the experience and confidence to take it forward and do it again. So that’s why I applied for Glasgow.”

Based in the polyclinic, Hollie explained that they saw a diverse range of injuries and ailments. “We saw a variety of things, everything from wisdom tooth pain and general tooth aches, through to full sports trauma with teeth being knocked out and facial injuries due to hockey, boxing, judo and rugby.

“It was nice to do some proper sports trauma work because, being in an NHS practice, I don’t see a lot of that sort of thing. It is usually just children with knocks to the face in the playground, that kind of thing. So this was quite interesting to see, full scale sports trauma.”

Hollie said that the biggest challenge was simply having the guts to go for it in the first place. She said: “It is all too easy to work within your confines or your comfort zone. I think the challenge was that every day you go in and you don’t know what to expect, who you are going to work with, what kind of things are going to come through the door.

“But equally, that’s the reward, because every day is so different. You do it because you have such a good time.”

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