Covid Scotland: Asking medical students to help NHS highlights 'unsustainable' staffing crisis, says BMA

The Scottish Government’s preparations to ask medical students to support the NHS as porters and auxiliary staff this winter highlights an “unsustainable” staffing crisis in the health service, the union BMA Scotland has said.

The government has written to Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow universities to ask for advice on requesting the help of fourth and fifth-year medical students this winter.

Students were brought in previously to help during the Covid-19 pandemic, and have also been asked to help in other devolved nations.

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Lewis O'Connor, chair of the BMA’s Scottish Medical Students Committee.Lewis O'Connor, chair of the BMA’s Scottish Medical Students Committee.
Lewis O'Connor, chair of the BMA’s Scottish Medical Students Committee.
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While studying they can work for a maximum of 15 hours per week.

Lewis O’Connor, chair of the BMA’s Scottish medical students committee, said the move highlighted the scale of current problems in the NHS, and called on the government to come up with an urgent workforce plan.

He said: “We know we must do whatever it takes to protect and support both primary and secondary care over what will be a long winter.

"Additional help is always welcome, but I do think the need to ask medical students to assist emphasises the seriousness and scale of the pressures on NHS services and frontline health staff.

"It demonstrates that the staffing crisis is unsustainable and needs to be seriously addressed before the situation worsens yet again.

"Medical students will no doubt put themselves forward to offer their support, but this cannot be a long-term strategy to plug significant staffing gaps in the NHS and further highlights the need for an urgent workforce plan to address the huge short, medium and long-term staffing issues we have.

"And – even more importantly – this cannot be allowed to have a negative impact on the education of our future doctors.”

A spokesperson said the Scottish Government maintained an “open and constructive dialogue” with university partners.

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They added: “Medical students have previously been offered the opportunity to register with their local bank for paid opportunities to work in a hospital setting.

"The Scottish Government recently approached Scottish university medical schools through the Chair of the Board for Academic Medicine in order to explore whether or not it would be appropriate and useful to ask medical students to further support the health service over the coming months.

"A similar approach was taken in other devolved administrations last year, so is not without precedent.”

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