Surgeon recruits 200-plus medical students in London to Covid-19 front line

A surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust has recruited more than 200 medical students to work on the front line during the coronavirus crisis.

Professor of surgery and consultant surgeon Charles Knowles, with the help of president of Barts and The London student union Megan Annetts, has recruited medical students from universities across the country to work across four London sites.

Prof Knowles said the scheme, one of the largest-scale recruitment drives of medical students around the country, has been “highly successful” so far.

“I think you would be on reasonable ground to say that we have been pioneering this scheme ahead of the curve and have probably one of the largest set-ups,” he said.

“Our medical students have currently had their course or at least any direct-facing aspects of their course postponed by the Covid outbreak… many of them are clearly keen to get involved.

“Our trust has an absolute need for more people on the ground to fill staff shortages to deal with illness and the increasing workload.”

A majority of the recruited medical students study at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, however students have joined from across the country who have parents living in the London area.

While third and fourth year students are training as health support workers in this scheme, fifth year students who would normally become junior doctors in August have had this role brought forward.

Prof Knowles said: “Partly with the help of the university, but also others in the local area, we’ve managed to arrange accommodation for people returning from their parental home.”

The scheme provides patient-facing and office-based roles, with a number of exclusions, including students at greater risk of coronavirus.

He said: “The medical students are signing a letter consenting and accepting the risks that they’re taking by doing this, as we’re all taking, as medical professionals facing patients at the moment.”

Ms Annetts is helping to position students close to where they live, and ideally placing those who live together in the same hospital and department.

She said: “In a time of such uncertainty, to have so many students wanting to help has been very uplifting for us all.

“The speed that we have been able to adapt to the demand from colleagues and pave new routes to establish efficient and safe deployment of students is remarkable and will no doubt have helped relieve pressures across the sites and wards.

“We are all working towards a common goal, that is to give our patients and their families the best care and support we can during this pandemic.”

Prof Knowles said: “We’ve got really positive feedback from departments and students in terms of the educational value of what they’re doing… they’re so glad to be able to contribute at this time.”