The scale of the crisis and the pressure it is heaping on the already overstretched NHS has prompted many medical schools to expedite graduation, in some cases cancelling exams.
Although the new graduates will not be able to perform the clinical duties of a doctor, they will be able to help in hospitals treating coronavirus patients.
They cannot undertake a doctor’s duties until they are registered by the General Medical Council. Registration is usually not completed until August and the GMC says it has no plans to move it forward, although it might face pressure to fast-track its procedures.
Among medical schools whose students have graduated early are Lancaster, Newcastle and University of East Anglia (UEA), and Oxford and Cambridge also have plans to do so, the Guardian understands.
A UEA spokesperson said: “In light of the Covid-19 outbreak the written component of assessment for final year medical students has been cancelled for 2020 …
“Given the need to support the NHS workforce in these difficult times, medical students can volunteer to work in the NHS, although they will not be able to undertake the duties of a qualified doctor. We have advised students that they must act within their competence, whilst being supervised and safe.
“We know that some students have already been volunteering and we are incredibly proud of them for this.”
Liverpool University said its year five students have already passed all their exams and are in their final stages of clinical training so “have vital skills to offer at a time of unprecedented need in the NHS. We know many of our students are keen to provide this support and have asked for the opportunity to volunteer.
“In line with the actions being taken by a number of other medical schools, we are providing students with this opportunity in order to offer them an important learning experience which will also fulfil the final clinical competencies required for the course.”
Julia Simons, the medical students lead for the Doctors’ Association UK, said students were eager to help out but there was a lack of clarity about what they could do, with no consistent guidance across the board.
“We hope medical students will be able to volunteer as soon as possible,” she said. “The sooner we are integrated into clinical settings the better prepared we will be for when the epidemic peaks. We will need supervision and support and worry that if we are only asked to volunteer when the crisis reaches its worst point doctors will, for very good reason, not have the time needed to support us entering the workforce.”
A spokesman for the Medical Schools Council said: “Graduation is being brought forward where possible for students who have met the required standards and outcomes for practice in order so that they might assist in the current crisis.”
It stressed that year 5 medical students have been continually assessed and those graduating early “met the high standard required to enter the medical workforce”.
A GMC spokesman said: “At this stage we don’t plan to change our usual process for provisional registration. Final-year students should be invited to apply in April and we’ll follow our usual approach, so they can start working in August.”
He added that students who volunteered “must be supervised to be safe and act within their competence. They must not be asked to carry out any duties of a doctor”.
Gurdas Singh and Chris Smith, medical students committee co-chairs at the British Medical Association, said students could apply to be junior doctors once they graduated but it would depend on the GMC’s capacity to register them.
They added: “We are working tirelessly to ensure that all students wishing to undertake employment in the NHS ahead of graduation are adequately protected and supported, and that they are not expected to perform any duties beyond their level of competence.”
Source Website Final-year medical students graduate early to fight Covid-19 | World news