Discussions on Covid-19 are understandably ubiquitous at the present time. One group of people who have remained relatively quiet in this dialogue however are medical students. So Periscope Nottingham interviewed a final year student paramedic to see what they think of the government’s action and how they are dealing with this crisis.
What happened from your end prior to and in the lead up to the lockdown?
“Well as a student paramedic you have lots of work placements that are useful but a different work environment to what we will end up, initially we were given the option of missing them if you were at risk or worried. I thought the risk outweighed the benefit. Like everyone though everything is a bit up in the air we’re watching for answers like everyone else.”
So, what is it like now?
“Well like most students all the teaching is online now and our practical ‘Life Support’ [dealing with cardiac arrest and other life-threatening conditions] exam is now an online quiz instead of a practical with mannequins and the equipment. Student paramedics aren’t allowed anywhere near respiratory patients so must remain in the vehicle. Because of the pandemic different jobs now necessitate different levels of PPE protection – all Cat 1 [serious immediately life-threatening conditions] now require full hazmat suits when there are only two in the vehicle. Trusts need staff so our final placement might not go ahead, we are going into employment. It’s a scheme where you can you opt in or out of and includes working in the hospital as an HCA [health care assistant], in the ambulance service as PTS [patient transport service] and some trusts are employing the paramedic students as technicians. Does this pose a risk to the patient – if a crew must put on a full hazmat suit before treating them? Is that risk outweighed by the possible risk to the paramedics?”
So, looking at the government’s response – do you believe their advice has been consistent and understood?
“Well in the past few weeks there were a few instances [while doing a placement in a GP surgery] of people coming in with something unrelated and have a cough and be like ‘oh I’ve just come back from Tenerife – is this OK?’. But whether that’s the government not been clear enough or people not taking personal responsibility I don’t know.”
What about testing or lack thereof?
“Ha what the public know is what we know, we don’t know when or if we’re going to get tested. I’ve heard cases of a paramedic displaying symptoms being told they had to travel 2 or 3 hours to get a test. You don’t want to be doing that if you’re ill especially as the countries on lockdown and you might infect some people.”
What can the government do?
“Testing, Testing, testing front line staff – currently calls are going up and staff numbers are going down. If a staff member get’s a cold and then has a cough they have to follow government advice and self-isolate even though a clinician knows their symptoms are not from Coronavirus. Once they can get tested easily then if it comes back negative, they can back on the road. Also, we need more PPE, proper PPE but you already knew that.”
What can the public do?
“Stick with it, I know it’s tempting to visit family but the more we stick with it the sooner it’ll be over … and hopefully at the end of it we’ll still have a working NHS *sigh*.”
Funding of the NHS and the treatment of its staff is something that comes up regularly – can you tell me more about what it’s like being a student paramedic?
“So, we have 50% of time on placement and 50% of our time in university. On placement you don’t get any petrol money – I’ve had to drive 1 hour 20 minutes before! You also have to pay for hospital parking, which isn’t cheap. Like any student you have to pay your fees and rent but we’re at uni from September to September, student finance doesn’t take account of this and gives us the same as if we were in Uni September to June like everyone else. In the past there was no fees but had an NHS bursary instead of student finance and they could claim travel and petrol costs.”
Even though you’re a trainee you work as a proper paramedic?
“Yeah and we’re paying to do it! I don’t know what people think we do but we do what the paramedic does and have them as a mentor. Patients before have said ‘oh I would never have known’ when I tell them I’m a student paramedic which I love but we’re paying to do it.”
Do you believe if the government funded the NHS more and treated their staff and students better then this crisis could have been alleviated?
“Yeah definitely the number of student nurses you see recently have dropped of massively. People can’t afford £9000.00 a year and the rent on top of that. The bursary was really appealing, you got to choose what you wanted and didn’t pay for your course, but people can’t afford to be nurses and paramedics. You can tell there’s a shortage because they’re employing student doctor’s and midwife in hospitals now until they qualify. They are capable of doing this, but they shouldn’t have to.”