2012 Olympic Games –
an opportunity for health improvement or a cost to the NHS?
Derek Miller explains the likely impact of the 2012 Olympic Games on the NHS and
examines whether the Games can act as a driver to improve the nation’s health.
You cannot escape the headlines and prevention and childhood obesity, but action measurable. In achieving this goal London will
shocking facts on obesity. Childhood obesity must be taken. So the plan is to use the set the standard for future events.
is news and like the waistbands of the UK’s Olympics as a focus and driver to improve the
children, it is set to get even bigger. nation’s health. There are opportunities and risk
Statistics from the most recent large-scale problems with this approach. However, the Olympics calls for significant
survey in the UK reveal that 25% of boys and London’s hosting of the 2012 Olympic investment. Originally forecasted to cost £2.4bn,
33% of girls aged between two and 19 years and Paralympic Games presents a unique the current budget is reported to be nearly
are overweight or obese – and there’s little sign opportunity to deliver a lasting health legacy. four times higher at £9.5bn. One of the main
the incidence is slowing. The cost of bariatric However, experience from other host cities factors is the change in the economic climate.
surgery is about £10,000, and as reported demonstrates that health benefits cannot When the Olympics were announced back in
recently few PCTs approve the procedure as per be assumed. In its latest annual report, the July 2005 the NHS was experiencing growth of
NICE guidelines due to funding constraints. Commission for Sustainable London 2012 9.1% and general economic growth was 2.5%.
Obesity currently costs the country around (CSL) states that: ‘Whilst the London 2012 Since then we have seen the global credit
£2bn annually and shortens lives by nine years, programme contains some commendable crunch and recession. We may now see the
due to the associated health problems. Some initiatives we do not believe that the overall “W” shaped recession, with the private sector
health experts even believe we’ll soon see objective of long term health has been bottoming out, and then the slow down in
parents outliving their children. considered as a strategic issue’. public sector spending from 2010, and the
The question on investment and returns for No Olympic event in the past has achieved NHS facing reductions in funding from 2011.
health is not easy, especially when evaluating any lasting health improvement legacy that was
12 health service review November 2009
sponsorship volunteer for the Olympic Games then LOCOG • health promotion
The London Organising Committee of the will be advertising in the near future. The The Go London strategy An Active & Healthy
Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) Department of Health requested information London for 2012 and Beyond sets ambitious
is responsible for preparing and staging the on the potential costs to the NHS for the end targets:
2012 Games. LOCOG is a company limited by of September; at the time of writing these bids • lift 150,000 people out of inactivity by
guarantee that will negotiate the sponsorship are still being considered (and there are no 2012 – reducing the proportion of the
deals. A total of £2bn is planned to be specific funds held by the DH for the Olympics) population who exercise for 30 minutes
raised from sources including sponsorship, so the actual values are confidential. The total less than one day per week
broadcasting rights and selling merchandise. bid is about £40m, and the split is as per the • have 300,000 more active by 2012 –
Although not yet finalised, if it is the same as following pie chart: increasing the number achieving three
most Games then there will be at least two sessions of 30 minutes activity per week
alcohol sponsors for beer and wine. It is unlikely • ensure 30,000 more people achieve the
that LOCOG will achieve its financial objectives
recommended level of exercise by 2012.
without such sponsors. But it does not give a
l Ser vice
good message regarding the misuse of alcohol. There are numerous activities and schemes
There are already concerns about some of to achieve these targets; if you are in London
the deals, e.g. confectionery giant Cadbury is to there will be one near you. Other SHAs are also
be a sponsor and will provide all confectionery h Pr o developing targets and strategies under the
and ice cream sold at venues and within the Change4Life programme.
Olympic Park. This is hardly a help when one of use,
Substa l and
the aims is to combat obesity. Alc o ho
Ambulance • substance misuse, alcohol and sexual health
To ensure the UK bid was successful a Sexual The first part is having services in place to
number of commitments and promises were deal with the expected number of people who
made, which if growth in funding had continued will misuse alcohol. At present 25% of A&E
at the 2005 rate would not present a problem. attendances are due to alcohol. The plan is to
The commitments and promises include: have a party atmosphere for the 60 days of the
• the Olympic family (of about 250,000 Games. Based on the UK model it is expected
including officials, athletes, media, that there will be about 68,000 people who
support etc.) will be entitled to Let’s take a closer look at each area of the pie are so intoxicated that they will require health
comprehensive, free health care, mainly at chart. intervention. To keep these people away
UCLH foundation trusts for central London from A&E departments booze buses and field
and for athletes at Homerton Foundation • Ambulance Service hospitals will be used.
Trust and Barts & the London Trust Before a local authority can give a licence for The other aspect is drug misuse and
• the London Ambulance Service will an event to take place there must be a specific sexual health. One of the known factors about
provide 24-hour ambulance cover for the number of ambulances available, depending on the Games in Sydney was the increase in the
Games the type of event, numbers expected and other number of street sex workers during the games.
• spectators and visitors will benefit from risk factors. The requirements are set out in The sex workers are likely to come from poorer
the usual rules on care on overseas visitors what is known as the Green (Safety at Sports countries where the rate of HIV/AIDs is much
• NHS employees will constitute a capable Grounds) and Purple (The Event Safety) Guides. greater (about 50% compared to the UK’s 5%),
and willing pool of volunteers to be trained There are over 860 events, including cultural, and most will be drug users. Needle exchange
for specific roles in helping to serve the at which dedicated ambulance cover will be and “clinic in a box” services will be created to
Games required. ensure that there is not a residual epidemic of
• because health is seen as a top national HIV/AIDs in London’s East End.
priority, the UK Government is able • hospital services
to guarantee that health services There are a small number of dedicated beds at With appropriate planning and direction, the
associated with staging the Games in the three hospitals for the Olympic family and London Olympics could show other countries
London in 2012 will require no additional athletes. how to develop a beneficial legacy and help to
investment. tackle obesity and other problems, by creating
• out of hospital a more active population. To achieve this, the
impact on NHS Signposting people to the right facility risks highlighted above must be appropriately
The Department of Health is currently preparing will be essential to mitigate the risk that managed along the way.
guidance on workforce and how the volunteer A&E departments will be inundated with
scheme will operate within the NHS. The inappropriate conditions (even more so than at
impact has not been considered in the business present). There will be additional information
cases. If you are interested in becoming a using NHS Direct to help in this. Derek Miller - independent consultant
health service review November 2009 13