THANKS to an extraordinary feat of organisation and a small army of 850 volunteers, anyone who falls ill at Glastonbury Festival will be in safe hands.

Since 1979, healthcare at Worthy Farm has been organised by Festival Medical Services (FMS), a Somerton-based charity that has expanded to cover other large events including Reading Festival and WOMAD in Wiltshire.

Its clinical volunteers, mainly NHS professionals who use their annual leave to be at the festival, are able to treat the vast majority of patients on-site, reducing the impact on local health services.

Across the last five Glastonburys, a total of 20,234 patients have been seen on-site, resulting in just 270 hospital transfers to Taunton, Yeovil or Bath.

Though the vast majority of cases are minor, the healthcare staff – which consists of doctors, nurses, paramedics, podiatrists and dentists – have the expertise and equipment to deal with serious incidents when they arise.

They are supported by other volunteers working in communications, reception or the charity's campsite.

Somerset County Gazette: The charity's medical centre is based at Big Ground to the north of the Worthy Farm site.The charity's medical centre is based at Big Ground to the north of the Worthy Farm site. (Image: Newsquest)

Dr Chris Howes, managing director of FMS, said: “In the course of the event here at Glastonbury, we’d expect to see in the region of 4,000 or 5,000 casualties, most of which are very minor.

“They’ve got things that aren’t life-threatening, but if they’re not dealt with, they're going to ruin their event and they’re going to have a pretty miserable time.

“The most common things are simple injuries such as cuts, bruises, sprains and strains and those sorts of things, which are inevitable when you’ve got lots of people moving around.

“Then you’ve got people with more chronic diseases and illnesses like heart problems or diabetes, who might get a flare-up of their condition and then need some treatment. We see the whole range, really.

“I’d say the majority of the people we see, certainly of the people that we have to send to hospital, go because of things that aren’t directly related to the festival.

“Essentially, the festival is a very safe place because such a huge amount of effort goes into it.

“We can treat somewhere between 98 or 99 per cent of casualties on-site, so the effect of the event on the local NHS is pretty minimal.”

Somerset County Gazette: Thousands of people watch the Arctic Monkeys on the Pyramid Stage on Friday night.Thousands of people watch the Arctic Monkeys on the Pyramid Stage on Friday night. (Image: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

The charity has grown from humble roots. In 1979, Dr Howes (then a GP in nearby Shepton Mallet) was asked to organise Glastonbury's medical services. 

“In those days, all the medical services consisted of was a doctor, a nurse and someone to see patients, so it was very low-key,” he said. 

“And then gradually as the event’s gone on and it’s got bigger and bigger, we’ve stayed with it and the organisation has developed.

“We’ve taken on other events and, along the way, we’ve become a charity.”

It is also a regulated training organisation, and it works to support other healthcare charities around the world, donating more than £1 million since 1989.

In 2020, it was awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service - the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK – in recognition of this.

In April, FMS moved into its new headquarters in Somerton after previously renting premises in Evercreech for eight years. 

The opening ceremony was performed by the former Lord Lieutenant of Somerset, Annie Maw, in her first duty as a patron of the charity.

She was joined at the new and improved facilities by Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis and Somerset councillor Tessa Munt

Somerset County Gazette: Festival founder Michael Eavis took part in a short ceremony at the opening of FMS' new Somerton HQ.Festival founder Michael Eavis took part in a short ceremony at the opening of FMS' new Somerton HQ. (Image: Festival Medical Services)

FMS bought the site in September and renovated it to make it fit for purpose. It now has a training room, records office, goods lift, mezzanine and garage.

And Dr Howes believes the site has already made a “substantial difference”.

He said: “Over the years, we’ve moved several times. Right at the beginning, when we had very little equipment, we stuffed it all up in the attic at my surgery!

“But then we moved it out into portacabins out on the Levels, then we moved to south Wales and came back pretty quickly.

“For the last 10 years or so, we’ve been at Evercreech in rented space.

“The facilities we’ve moved into now in Somerton are very much tailored to our needs.

“We’ve done a lot of conversion so we’ve got loads of storage space, we’ve got a big garage where we can keep all of our vehicles under cover, which means everything lasts longer, and we’ve got a training room.

“Best of all, it belongs to us, so we don’t have to pay rent.”

Glastonbury's prestige makes it the first big event in the charity's calendar, and one that everyone wants to get involved with. 

“We’ve got a couple of smaller events that we do before this, but this is the big one,” said Dr Howes. 

“It’s the one where we provide the biggest crew and service. It’s hugely popular amongst our members – we never have any trouble recruiting for it!”