COVID-19: Medical Students' Fast Track Plans Finalised

Rachel Pugh

March 27, 2020

UK-wide plans have been drawn up to fast-track the process of allowing final year medical students to work as doctors on the NHS frontline, as hospitals struggle to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

A joint statement issued by the UK Health Departments, the General Medical Council (GMC), Health Education England, NHS Education for Scotland, Health Education and Improvement Wales, the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency, and the Medical Schools Council, recognised that COVID-19 is putting the health and care sectors of all four nations under such extreme pressure that a national approach is necessary to harness the input of final year medical students as junior doctors.

Explaining the UK-wide approach, the statement says: "We have agreed to facilitate the early provisional registration as doctors of suitable final year medical students once they have graduated, and the early full registration of suitable Foundation Year 1 doctors."

Key Principles

Key principles in deploying these staff are that:

  • Participation is by a voluntary opt-in system for graduates and doctors

  • Induction will be given to all participants who will be provided with ‘full necessary personal protection equipment’ and the training to use it

  • Individuals will be appropriately supervised, and will not be asked to work beyond their competence

  • Employers, medical schools, and statutory education bodies will make the decision on where best to deploy volunteers

The intention is for the GMC to give provisional registration to any final year medical student who applies, provided they have graduated and that their medical school confirms there are no fitness to practise considerations.

Many medical schools across the country have brought finals forward or have run them early, in response to the national emergency. Several, including Sheffield and Manchester, had already alerted students that they would be called back to help, but this joint statement is an indication of the need for a unified approach.

'Extraordinary Circumstances'

Professor Colin Melville, medical director and director of education and standards at the GMC said applications for provisional registration from final year students would be invited in April as usual but would be processed sooner given the pandemic: "It means that final year students who’ve been graduated by their medical school will be able to work as Foundation Year 1 doctors before August, if they are asked and willing to do so.

"We’re following our usual policies and procedures and don’t need emergency powers to bring provisional registration forward. But given the extraordinary circumstances, we won’t charge students a fee to register this year.

"We understand that final year students may be worried about the challenges our health services are facing, and they’re likely to have questions about what happens next. We’re working closely with their medical schools, the Medical Schools Council, the Foundation Programme, the BMA, and postgraduate deans to develop advice, guidance and support, which we’ll share in the coming weeks." 

Manchester University’s medical school welcomed the joint approach and expects to be able to recommend graduation earlier than normal of the overwhelming majority of its current Year 5 students.  A University of Manchester spokesman said: "That would allow for the employment of our recent graduates in a locum doctor role within Greater Manchester.

"We have been scrupulous in ensuring that our process minimises the dangers of COVID-19 for our graduates and ensures their practice will be as safe as possible in these wholly exceptional circumstances."

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