Coronavirus: medical students ride to the rescue

UK medical students step up to help NHS staff and the wider community

Medical students at UK universities are offering help to their communities as the Covid-19 pandemic places strain on key health workers, the elderly and the vulnerable.

Undergraduate medics at UCL’s Medical School are volunteering to babysit the children of doctors and nurses as well as walk dogs and carry out shopping.

In anticipation of the UK government’s school closures, the group launched the London Medical Student Helping Hands Facebook group earlier this week. The group’s page aims to recruit other medical students while advertising its services to NHS staff.

The students were inspired by ‘Edinburgh Medics Share’, a similar voluntary initiative by medical students at Edinburgh University two weeks ago. They have also co-ordinated efforts with other UK medical schools, and more than 30 other Helping Hands groups now being set up across the UK.

During this time of national crisis, we want to play our part

“Over the next few weeks and months key health workers could face longer shifts and last-minute changes to rotas and having a network of “ready to go” babysitting, childcare and household support could become essential, if they are to remain on the frontline in these challenging times,” said group co-ordinator, Connor Tugulu, a fourth-year student at UCL Medical School.

“It will not be long before we are working in the same hospitals and wards, and during this time of national crisis, we want to play our part in relieving some of the burden our great NHS staff will face.”

To reassure healthcare workers who need childcare support, the group says most of its students are DBS checked “and reasonably responsible human beings, many of whom will have babysitting/tutoring experience”.

Professor Deborah Gill, Director of UCL Medical School, said: “I am truly proud of the action of our students. We select our students based on the alignment of their values with NHS values; this is testament to the fact we have absolutely chosen the right young people to become future UCL doctors.”

NHS doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers can request help by visiting the Helping Hands Facebook page, which is local to where they live – not where they work.

‘We’re just trying to take advantage of the momentum that exists’

Students at Dundee have also set up a Facebook group in an effort to help the city’s vulnerable during the coronavirus crisis.

Third-year medicine students Abigail Johnston and Ben Porter established the UoD Students – COVID-19 Community Relief GroupUoD Students – COVID-19 Community Relief Group when face-to-face teaching was suspended at the university and are recruiting like-minded peers.

The pair say the aim is to help a wide range of people including Dundee’s elderly, others in the high risk category, and anybody else affected by acting as a link between willing volunteers and organisations.

“We’ve contacted a variety of community centres and religious organisations ranging from churches, the Hindu centre, and different mosques in the area,” said Abigail Johnston.

“We’re trying to act like the middle man in this to try and speed up the process.”

Within 24 hours of being launched, the group had over 800 members. 

“Everyone has been so supportive of it,” said Ms Johnston. “Friends have reached out and said it’s incredible. A lot of people want to be a part of it so we’re just trying to take advantage of the momentum that exists.”

Last week, in response to the spread of Covid-19, the Medical Schools Council (MSC) advised the UK’s 42 medical schools to fast-track final-year students so they can begin working on the NHS frontline as soon as possible.


Read more: Doing their bit: UK universities leap into action during Covid-19 crisis