ER24 is the preferred medical provider to the Cheetahs, the Stormers, and many other top rugby teams – so what do they look for on the field, and what does that mean for spectators?

“ER24 has a strong commitment to rugby in South Africa. We aim to provide a world-class service across all levels of the game.” – Dr Robyn Holgate, Chief Medical Officer: ER24’s Clinical Department

ER24 recently announced a new partnership with Bloemfontein Stadium, becoming the preferred medical assistance provider to both the Toyota Cheetahs and spectators at all games hosted by the venue. This is the latest step in a series of high-level rugby partnerships – ER24 is also responsible for providing field-side emergency medical services at matches involving the DHL Stormers, Vodacom Blue Bulls and Cell C Sharks.

At these matches, ER24 provides a high level of clinical expertise in assisting both players and spectators with urgent, necessary medical treatment. But they also reflect one facet of a much larger continuum of rugby care, throughout South Africa, and at all levels of the game.

This programme is known as BokSmart.

“BokSmart is a national rugby safety programme that focuses on coach and referee education,” says Dr Robyn Holgate, Chief Medical Officer: ER24’s Clinical Department. The programme is overseen by , Dr Wayne Viljoen, Senior Manager for Rugby Safety at SA Rugby.  The aim of this programme is simple: to make rugby a safer game for all who play it.

“The main focal points for BokSmart are injury prevention, injury management, rugby safety and player performance,” says Dr Holgate. “Most of the programme’s intervention work involves education: it teaches coaches and referees best practices and medical protocols around player safety.”

BokSmart is implemented across all age groups and levels affiliated with the governing body, and ER24 is the provider of the programme’s BokSmart Spineline. ER24 has managed the BokSmart Spineline since 2009.

Involvement in the BokSmart Spineline programme is part of ER24’s commitment to providing quality medical care across the spectrum of rugby in SA: a dedicated emergency helpline, managed by ER24, which is designed solely to provide the best, most appropriate and fastest pre-hospital emergency medical care to treat potential serious concussion, head, neck and spine injuries sustained while playing rugby.

“This is a 24-hour, manned, toll-free number, which is operated by ER24’s team of emergency resource operators in our Contact Centre,” she says. “They dispatch an appropriate ambulance to the scene, depending on the nature of the injury.”

When ER24 paramedics are stationed at rugby matches in SA – from high-school games to Super Rugby, Sevens and internationals – they are trained in World Rugby evidence-based BokSmart safety protocols to ensure they identify serious injuries and take appropriate action.

“Concussion, head injury and spinal injuries are of course a major focus for us, as they can be serious and may be difficult to identify immediately,” says Dr Holgate. “Our paramedics are trained to spot certain signals: a player might be confused, or unsteady on their feet. They might just be irritable, or dazed, or even suffering convulsions. How we respond in that moment can have a lasting effect on that player’s wellbeing, so we have to be trained and ready to treat them properly.”

This initiative provides real help, real fast, regardless of whether the patient is covered by medical insurance. In fact, should the player not have a medical aid, the costs related to telephonic screening, transportation and on scene stabilisation are covered by ER24 – although this only applies to players with potentially serious or catastrophic head, neck or spine injuries and who have made contact with the BokSmart Spineline directly.

The BokSmart Spineline can be contacted at 0800 678 678.

“We are passionate about rugby. We care about the players,” says Dr Holgate. “From the medic stationed on the side of the field, right up to the contact centre team manning the BokSmart Spineline emergency number, we aim to provide a comprehensive continuum of effective, excellent clinical care.”