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Allowing Newcastle United fans into St James Park would be ‘potentially irresponsible’ – NHS Consultant

2 years ago

I read with interest the recent opinion article (‘Supporters shouldn’t be locked out – Newcastle United fans should be able to decide if they go to games’)  by Ben Cooper on The Mag.

It relates to a number of current NUFC issues and in doing so outlines some of his experiences in health care.

I could be clearer with my response if I knew exactly what his role was but for now I’ll outline a few issues that I’m very aware of. I’m afraid that I’ll begin with healthcare but there is a significant football and point to this piece.

He asserts that (like me) he has worked in the NHS over the course of the pandemic and (like many of us) has had friends and acquaintances infected with COVID-19. Some have died. I share his loss and along with colleagues continue to be very concerned and vigilant about the next 12-18 months.

Let me explain. He writes that the primary aim of the lockdown was to save the NHS and prevent frontline staff from being overwhelmed. He continues to describe how the NHS has been saved and was not as overwhelmed as we all initially feared.

Up to a point he is correct, however, we were not overwhelmed because we created extra capacity by postponing multiple procedures for an assortment of conditions, not to mention cancelling many screening procedures.

Much international evidence demonstrates that “making up time” will require extra capacity and could take several years to achieve. Canada estimates a 20% increase in capacity 24/7 to reset things inside 12 months and that is without a significant second wave of infection. Can the NHS do that and can a workforce that is physically and psychologically drained meet the same expectations in the UK? The smart money is on a two year reset.

Now to football matters, or rather football spectator matters.

My attention was drawn particularly to the section entitled “Do you think at least a small percentage of fans should have been allowed into games when the Premier League resumes?” He replies with the following “No. As I have said I believe they (Newcastle United fans and those at other clubs) should all be let in. It’s up to them whether they go or not. They know the risks and should be treated as adults.”

This assumes a complete libertarian approach to watching football without any consideration for others.

My experience of working match-days (more of that later) is that there are multiple vulnerable individuals (adults and children) attending. Furthermore, his opinion piece fails to explore the legislation relating to Safety at Sports Grounds from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS.) This guidance is euphemistically referred to as the Green Guide and its most recent edition was published in 2018/19. There are stipulated criteria relating to medical cover, the provision of paramedic service and first aid providers.

At St James Park we have three doctors on duty for the crowd on match-day; all are senior NHS Doctors performing extra work on behalf of the club. Paramedic cover is provided by North East Ambulance Service (more NHS workers) and First Aid Provision comes from St. John Ambulance, a number of senior staff being NHS employees as well. A match with a 52,000 crowd cannot go ahead without such cover. And the organisations offering medical indemnity have yet to make any statement on the cost of providing such cover. Additionally, a number of life assurance companies are suspending cover for some health care professionals if they become infected or knowingly expose themselves to infection outside their usual working environments.

We must also include all the stadium security and stewarding for 52,000 spectators. Whilst there is no cure or vaccine, all will require additional PPE. Shouting and chanting increases the distance that droplets travel in aerosol from our airway, the risks of infection transmission therefore remains high and the North-East of England currently has the highest documented COVID-19 infection rate in the country.

In summary, it’s heart-breaking that Ben like many of us has had to endure some gut-wrenching moments in the last 3-4 months and my heart goes out to him. However, his assertions about allowing spectators into St James Park are at best glib and at worst potentially irresponsible, particularly when he outlines that he works in health care.

Joe Cosgrove, Crowd Doctor NUFC, Consultant in Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine

Conflict of Interests

1. Chair National Events Medicine Advisory Group, sponsored by Hillsborough Family Support Group

2. Consultant for the Guide to Safety for Sports Grounds, DCMS


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