National Health Supporters

We have rightly praised the incredible NHS workers in the last few weeks. Yet behind the scenes, there has seen an out-spilling of support from the public surrounding them.

This has particularly come to light in medical students, who have been using their training to take part in the “National Health Supporters” – an initiative giving NHS workers the reassurance they need to continue saving lives.

Whether this is through grocery shopping, baby or pet sitting, they have become the second line of support.

York Vision spoke to Vigneshwar Raj Veerappan, Kate Kinsella and Tito Olaniyan about the vital work they have been taking part in:

Who makes up the majority of your NHS supporters?

Majority of NHS supporters group are made of medical students currently living in and around the region, and NHS workers.

How does it feel to be able to support your soon to be colleagues?

It feels great to be able to support key workers during a time of a lockdown, when it often feels like you are not doing enough of your part because you are just at home. While all medical students in the group wish they were in the frontline to share the burden of the NHS, because of a variety of reasons that we aren’t able to, there is some peace in knowing you are doing a small part to help.

What responses have you received for your work, How much demand is there?

Thankfully York hasn’t been too hard hit by this crisis compared to other regions of the UK, so there has not been much demand. However, we do occasionally receive requests regarding help with food, care of children etc.

What has made medical students uniquely capable of this?

Medical students, when enrolling to study, are required to submit DBS checks which proves they have no criminal convictions. Given this initiative requires volunteers doing work that is private and requires a lot of trust, we felt like recruiting medical students who already have prior DBS checks and proofs would be easier logistically and quicker to role out over a large region.

How does it feel, having been on a placement based year, to be unable to directly help in the NHS wards themselves?

I think that obviously it is important that we are not on placement at the moment. The extra strain on the NHS in the past means healthcare staff don’t all have time to support us in a clinical setting and also, it is vital to minimise the risk we would pose to ourselves and our communities if we were to contract covid-19. Despite this I do really miss placement and feel a bit useless here at home studying all day. My uni has provided some really great online teaching, and volunteer education organisations set up by doctors around the country have been providing amazing webinars for us as well, such as bitemedicine, SMILE medicine and Covid medical education. My uni really stressed how important it is for us to continue our learning at home so we can graduate as proficient doctors, but I do wish I could be doing more to help on the frontline. As well as this, I learn so much more when I’m on the ward so am keen to get back whenever it is safe. I think when my exams are over I will do some volunteering for the NHS in whatever capacity I would be useful in!

How has what you have seen of the NHS’ effort during the pandemic affected your expectations of your career? How do you feel knowing you will be a part of it, and potentially return to a placement next year?

This pandemic has reminded me of the greater duty we as doctors bear in the face of great uncertainty. Our aim to save lives might mean that we risk our own health – this is both scary and heroic. I know that heading back to placements is going to be different, but I see it as a huge learning opportunity. I am proud to say that I played my part (however little it could be) in this pandemic.

How have you found balancing NHS supporting with online course?

Online courses thankfully have not demanded much of our time so it has not been too difficult to juggle. Furthermore, with technology, maintaining and coordinating online platforms have become much easier to do in the comfort of your homes

How can the general public support you?

The general public for the most part have already been extremely supportive, showing support for NHS and key workers, maintaining social distancing, and helping create amazing initiatives that ease the strain of this crisis. I cannot think of any other way they can support us at the moment

With talk of doctors and nurses being on the front line, what do you think of opinions that they are the new heroic figure. Do you see this in the people you help or the lecturers who have gone back into service?

A lot of lecturers and academics from our medical school have gone back to work in the NHS, but still try their level best to stay invested in our education. I cannot picture the immense amount of stress that they are in at the moment. The reality is however that our public systems, not just NHS, have been strained for a really long time and COVID-19 is just a mere outlet that highlighted these issues. While I am glad that these longstanding issues have now come to the spotlight and everyone is talking about them more often, I fear that idealising key workers as superheroes may cause the public to distance their needs more. After all, these keyworkers are all humans, they have needs, they require equal amount of support and assurance of their safety as any of us, they have families and children who need to be safe from this crisis. As opposed to merely clapping our hands and talking about bravery, we need to ensure that their needs are being met, that the government is prioritising and funding these services adequately. I hope this spirit lasts well beyond the crisis, and a serious re-prioritisation of our needs and requirements happens.