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Government is considering using medical students to help in coronavirus outbreak



The Government is now considering drafting in medical students to help the NHS deal with the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

Chief medical officer (CMO) Professor Chris Whitty told MPs this morning that this is one of the actions they ‘might’ take.

In an evidence session held today by the House of Commons health and social care committee, Dr Luke Evans, a GP in Oxford and the MP for Bosworth, asked Professor Whitty if the Government would consider ‘using clinical medical students’ in its fight against Covid-19.

In response, Professor Whitty said: ‘We have already come to a view that actually if it gets to the point we need to, changing what foundation year one doctors can do, extending their rights to some degree and extending into the final year medical students might be one of the things we would consider in addition to pulling back into service, if they are willing, those who are recently retired.’

He added: ‘That is one of the ones that we have already given a view on.’

Under the Government’s action plan released earlier this week, retired GPs may be called back to the workforce to tackle the pandemic, non-urgent care may be delayed and health professionals will have powers to detain people in quarantine areas if they suspect them of having the virus.

In the evidence session, Professor Whitty clarified that only GPs who retired two-to-three years ago may be asked to come back to the workforce if they deemed that the move would not put their health at risk.

He told the committee: ‘Certainly for doctors the plan isn’t to take everybody who is retired, only those who have recently, in the last two or three years, retired and are still fairly current and re-establish their license. It doesn’t mean that they need to come back it just means that they have the ability to come back.

‘We would certainly wish them to make an assessment, which the medical profession can make for themselves, about they’ve got health conditions that might worry them and we might well be in a situation where we decide, for example, to deploy doctors who are older or have health conditions into non-patient facing roles. There may still be clinical, for example, they might be helping with NHS 111.’

He continued: ‘There are things that can be done that would not put them at risk but would help them to serve the public for this period of time when the NHS was under considerable strain.’

Further, asked about centralising sick notes to free up GP time and extending the seven-day allowance for people with suspected Covid-19 who are off work, Professor Whitty said: ‘All these issues are under discussions. These are very important questions and what I don’t want to do is give you a half answer that ends up being confusing.

‘These kind of things need to be sorted through.’

This comes as Government lawyers have signalled that patients who self-isolate can request a confirmation email from NHS 111 instead of a sick note from their GP.

On CQC inspections, Professor Whitty did not confirm whether the Government is planning to suspend them if the situation got worse. However, he told MPs that the matter was ‘under discussions’.

The CQC yesterday announced that it will continue to inspect GP practices despite the Government preparing to tackle a major Covid-19 emergency.

Some 90 coronavirus cases have now been announced in the UK.

The Government is preparing for a worst-case scenario where 80% of the population get the virus and one-fifth of the workforce is off work at the peak of the outbreak.