Career advice

Volunteering could be your ticket to festival season

Enjoy the atmosphere, help raise money for charity – and boost your CPD and practice hours
Nurse volunteer at Glastonbury

Enjoy the atmosphere, help raise money for charity – and boost your CPD and practice hours

Picture: Paul Stuart

For many exhausted clinicians working full-time in the NHS or elsewhere, the idea of volunteering to do even more work in the holidays or at weekends may seem a little strange.

But many nurses do volunteer in their spare time, for charities including St John Ambulance, the Red Cross and event healthcare charities such as Festival Medical Services. I also know nurses who volunteer at football grounds, sports stadiums and one petrol-head who volunteers every year at a Formula 1 Grand Prix – which includes business class air travel.

A volunteer role for everyone

As a volunteer nurse with Festival Medical Services, I coordinate a team of nurses working at festivals including Glastonbury and Reading. Unlike event healthcare companies that pay their staff, this charity relies on volunteers. It receives money from festival organisers, which it then donates to small health-related charities in the UK and abroad.

Although the work can be quite demanding, there are many benefits, such as accumulating continuing professional development (CPD) and practice hours for revalidation, enhancing your CV with something a little out of the ordinary and being able to attend the events when volunteering.

‘There is a misconception that it’s mostly young adults who have overindulged or taken illicit drugs, but we see and treat a large range of ailments in people of all ages’

The nursing team is made up of nurses from a variety of clinical backgrounds with a range of skills and experience. This includes emergency department and intensive care nurses, advanced nurse practitioners and some general nurses. We also have nurses on the clinical governance team, while some undertake first aid training and volunteer with the first aid or first responder teams.

Mental health nurses can volunteer as part of a separate mental health team, and there are also roles for nurses in areas such as communication and administration.

At large weekend events the Festival Medical Services team sees thousands of people.
Picture: Paul Stuart

We all return year after year

The nurses who volunteer come back year after year. They say that while sometimes it feels like a busman’s holiday, it can differ quite a lot from their day jobs. There is paperwork, but not as much as in the NHS, and although we are only together for a few events a year, there is a great team spirit, with Facebook and WhatsApp groups active all year round. 

Most people who attend festivals are there to have a good time. Glastonbury is a party in a field with 170,000 people – imagine a town the size of Derby being created from scratch and dropped into a large field in Somerset. It’s a family-friendly event with quite a few babies and children on site, as well as older adults.

In an ideal world, our team would turn up at events and not see anyone in our medical centres. But over the course of a big weekend event, such as Glastonbury or Reading festivals, we see thousands of people.

There is a misconception that most are young adults who have overindulged in alcohol or are experiencing the side effects of illicit drugs. But we see and treat a large range of ailments in people of all ages, from simple blisters to serious exacerbations of underlying diseases, such as chronic lung disease.

People with long-term conditions can prearrange to visit us for their regular treatments while at the event – for example, assistance with complicated dressings – and we can also store medication.

Volunteers may change dressings, diagnose and treat simple fractures, or deal with conditions
such as asthma. Picture: Paul Stuart

Whatever the weather

The weather at an event can dictate the kind of ailments people present with – in hot weather we see people suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration, and in dry weather we see a lot of people with eye problems due to dust, which can also exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma.

If it rains, we expect to treat a number of people with fractured limbs because of slips and trips. At large events, we have an X-ray unit and radiographers on site to avoid off-site transfers for simple fractures, keeping the pressure off an already over-stretched NHS.

Once a simple fracture has been diagnosed by X-ray, we have a team of doctors, nurses, physios and podiatrists who can plaster or strap. 

Find out more about Festival Medical Services, and how you can get involved as a volunteer


Linda Bailey is a consultant in public health/health intelligence for Public Health Wales and a volunteer nurse with Festival Medical Services


Linda Bailey will present a fringe event on volunteering at events and festivals at this year’s RCN congress.
Find out more here about RCN congress 2019, at the ACC in Liverpool from May 19-23

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