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Medical schools ask students to aid hospitals and GP practices in winter crisis

Medical students are being urged to help out at hospitals and GP practices amid a ‘national crisis’ faced by the NHS this winter.

The BMA said the news, which comes as Public Health England data showed a 78% rise in flu cases reported by GP practices last week, was ‘extremely worrying’

The head of Keele University Medical School contacted students to ask them to help out in this ‘extraordinary crisis’.

Dr Andrew Hassell urged fourth and fifth year students: ‘Do volunteer to help in any way possible, providing it’s within your competence. This applies to students in hospitals and in GP.’

He told students in an email: ‘We’re sure you don’t need us to tell you about the extraordinary situation the whole of the NHS is facing this winter.

‘As the medical school for this area we think we should be doing whatever we can to support local services while maintaining student learning.

‘We are sure you will want to be part of our collective effort at this time of national crisis.’

The BMA said reports that hospitals were ‘forced to draft in medical students to plug gaps due to winter pressures are extremely worrying’.

The BMA medical students committee co-chair Dr Harrison Carter said: ‘Not only would this be exploitation of students who may be reluctant to say no, but it also raises concerns over patient safety if those working on the frontline are being asked to work beyond their clinical competence.

‘While the Government insists the NHS was better prepared than ever before for winter, this shows hospitals resorting to desperate measures to cope with a system struggling with increased demand and lack of staff and resources.’

He called for the Government to work with managers and the NHS to develop a long-term funding plan ‘across the healthcare system, from general practice right through to social care’.

Dr Carter added: ‘Medical students are the next generation of doctors and what they are seeing unfold in hospitals up and down the country is the health service at its worst, with little to no action being taken by those in power to tackle what has become an annual issue.’

Dr Chandra Kanneganti, who is an honorary tutor at Keele Medical School and the GPC policy lead for the GP Forward View – although speaking in a personal capacity – told Pulse fifth year students were ‘extremely skilled’ and aware of their limitations and competencies to help out.

He added: ‘This is an unprecedented year, we have never seen anything like this.’

Medical undergraduates at the University of Liverpool have also received a similar email, warning them they might be asked to help out.

A spokesperson said: ‘The University of Liverpool emailed its medical students at the beginning of January to inform those who are currently learning by assisting on wards that they may be asked to assist in busier areas.

‘Students, and the NHS trusts they are placed with, were reminded of the standards and rules put in place for students’ own protection and for patient safety when assisting on wards.’

According to the Guardian, they were told: ‘The NHS is currently facing unprecedented pressures, particularly in the emergency departments and acute wards.

‘During this difficult time it is likely placements may ask student doctors to assist in the acute areas where there is most pressure.’

NHS England statistics for A&E waiting times, published last week, revealed that the month of December was the worst on record, with major departments meeting the four-hour target in just 77.3% of cases.

Meanwhile, GPs are ‘horrendously pressured’ this winter, including cancelling leave and working overtime to care for winter illnesses.

Please note: this was amended at 17:50 on 15 January 2018 to reflect that Dr Chandra Kanneganti was speaking in a personal capacity and he did not welcome the letter. Apologies for any confusion