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Queen Mary staff and students volunteering on the coronavirus frontline

Queen Mary University of London has trained 18 final-year medical students to immediately support the NHS in the fight against coronavirus.

The students began helping doctors and nurses in adult critical care at The Royal London Hospital starting at 8am on Tuesday 24 March. Many more student volunteers are expected to follow as part of a broader training scheme.

Queen Mary has already released its clinical staff from their academic duties to support the NHS while medical students in years 1-4 are ready to volunteer as the government calls on expertise from across the country to help with the crisis.

To relieve pressure on hospitals in the capital, Queen Mary has also donated important diagnostic equipment and released parking spaces for NHS workers on its London campuses.

Professor Colin Bailey, President and Principal of Queen Mary University of London, said: “We are working closely with government and the NHS to support the national effort against coronavirus. The NHS is doing an incredible job and as a University it is our duty to contribute by donating the world-leading academic and clinical expertise from our medical school as well as our facilities and equipment.”

Queen Mary academics from science and engineering and the humanities and social sciences have been commenting on the outbreak, from the importance of DNA sequencing to the impact on Brexit.

One of our medical students, Harriet Louden, also described the work she is carried out to support her local community during the pandemic. Harriet works at her local hospital in Hampshire as a healthcare assistant on maternity and has been picking up more shifts to help out. She is also working at a local GP and volunteering in the local community doing food shops and getting prescriptions.

I’m volunteering because I have a responsibility as someone who is low risk, and willing and able to help.

Working in hospital, I act as a runner in theatre for the labour ward, assist midwives in their duties, including deliveries, and on postnatal, supporting mothers in their health, as well as their babies, for example through breastfeeding assistance and advice.

The main challenge so far has been anticipatory worry. Staff numbers are not yet unmanageable, however many workers are vulnerable themselves, or live with others who may be. Patients are in a similar position, with only a few confirmed cases, but high levels of anxiety and concern, as well as confusion over some of the advice, particularly regarding those who are at risk.

I was approached by a GP to help out at her practice and part of my role there is helping to do admin work as many of the staff are high risk and may need to isolate. It’s not something I've done before but I’ve been quite quick to pick up.

I can triage patients filing for electronic telephone consultations, from those that are displaying potentially harmful symptoms, including those outlined as being related to COVID by the NHS, and those patients who have less physical complaints but are struggling to manage their mental health and wellbeing, and those that are asking questions that could be redirected.

The experience has highlighted the broad scope of general practice, for example the challenges they are facing to meet the needs of those outside of hospital, with COVID positive and negative patients, both during and in the aftermath of this crisis.

I would absolutely recommend volunteering. There is so much scope to help, whether you use your clinical knowledge or not.

We have a responsibility as young, fit people, who are able to help, to do so. It is so encouraging to see people pulling together towards a common goal, and as students we should do our part.

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