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Twenty-four final year medical students at Oxford University have volunteered to join the NHS effort to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

The group started their roles supporting patients in the Emergency Department (ED) at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford on Friday 20 March. They have been deployed to non-medical roles within the department, and will assist with several important, basic clinical administrative roles. Their recruitment, induction and rostering have been carried out at a fast pace, but the students have risen to the challenge  and are already settling into their placements.

Following training they will be working in the department’s reception area, directing patients, and working alongside nursing teams to perform blood tests, and other diagnostic investigations, such as ECGs.

Harriet Loney, has just completed her final year studying medicine at Green Templeton College, Oxford, and, alongside her peers, she will join the John Radcliffe Emergency Department team today. Harriet said: “We were originally meant to be jetting off around the world doing medicine but, due to the increasing demand on the health care system here in the UK, we have instead stayed in Oxford and joined the Emergency Department team.

“We have been trained up in several jobs roles. Firstly, we stream every patient presenting at ED to the correct area, which is broadly split into 'respiratory' and 'non-respiratory'. We've also been trained up to help book patients in at reception. Our other role will be acting as health care assistants, performing tasks such as taking blood and putting up drips.

“I think our feelings echo those of everyone across the world. We really appreciate the national effort everyone is putting in with social distancing and helping those in isolation and we are very happy to now help play our part.”

Dr Lois Brand, Associate Director of Clinical Studies at Oxford University Medical School, is in charge of coordinating the students’ new roles. She said: “The emergency department team has been overwhelmed by the incredible response of the final year students to our request for volunteers. They will be providing vital additional support to the clinical and administrative team in the ED at this critical time.”

As the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic has escalated in recent weeks, questions have been raised about whether final year medical students, who might graduate early in order to help with the crisis, will have met the required standards and be sufficiently ready to work in the NHS. The Oxford students who joined the Emergency Department on Friday have already taken and passed their Finals examination and achieved the required standard to deliver basic care in a highly supervised clinical setting.

Dr Catherine Swales, Director of Clinical Studies at Oxford University Medical School, said: “We are thrilled that our students have stepped up to help at this important time; similar efforts are being made across the country, and the national contribution from students is really amazing. We have every confidence in their ability to perform these new duties safely and compassionately.”

The Medical Schools Council (the representative body for all UK Medical Schools) has stated that “…although efforts are being made to bring forward graduation where possible in order to assist the management of the current COVID-19 crisis, no medical student will be permitted to graduate until the university has evidence to confirm that the person has met the GMC’s required standards and outcomes…. All graduating doctors, whether they graduate early or not, will be of the standard needed to enter the medical workforce.”

The Chief Medical Officer of Oxford University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Prof Meghana Pandit, said: “We should applaud all the medical students who have volunteered to join us in various parts of OUH for their courage, support them, shield them, nurture them and welcome them as our colleagues. I am ever grateful and proud of them in these unprecedented circumstances.”