We’ve all seen the press stories about final year medical and nursing students graduating early, and immediately starting work to help in the coronavirus pandemic. Medicine in particular is a 5-year long degree, and it’s only the final year students who have been put to work early. Students in other years of their medical degree are still learning online, but many have come up with other innovative ways of using their skills to assist the NHS.


Benefits of Medical Students

Medical students, and students of other professions such as teaching or nursing, have a unique advantage over other students. People wishing to enrol on any course which leads to a “regulated activity” profession needs an enhanced disclosure check before starting to study. This doesn’t just include the medical profession, but other related professions such as opticians, physiotherapists or student teachers. As the main barrier to starting in a volunteer role with the NHS is often getting clearance from the DBS, medical and other students are valuable as they can start work immediately.


Manchester NHS Supporters

One of the biggest volunteer projects was set up by a group of medical students in Manchester and has since expanded into several other large cities. Manchester medical students are taking on a variety of tasks such as providing childcare for health professionals who are unable to use regular childminders or nurseries, collecting groceries for people who are shielding, or providing admin or reception support for GP surgeries. None of this work is paid, and it relieves pressure on the NHS in ways other than working on the front line.


Getting Involved

It’s not just people who already have an enhanced disclosure in place who are being recruited as volunteers to help their community. Across the country, community volunteers are helping with tasks such as collecting prescriptions or even just calling isolated people to chat on the phone. Many groups are running independently and have no requirement to check the criminal records of people who are volunteering to help. If volunteers are part of a group set up by the NHS, different rules apply. The NHS will recruit for specific roles, and the level of contact the volunteer is having with vulnerable groups will determine the type of disclosure needed.


Free, Fast-Tracked Disclosure Checks

Most volunteers get free DBS checks as a matter of course, in order to recognise their unpaid contribution. This rule has not changed and has been extended. Currently, anyone applying to work in the NHS or care sector, whether paid or unpaid, does not pay for a DBS check. There is also a new option to fast-track an answer from the Barring Service, pending a full DBS check. This involves an initial search of the Barred Lists only, to see whether the applicant’s name appears on the blocked list. Applicants can expect an answer in around 48 hours and can then start in their volunteer role straight away. The full disclosure certificate will follow in the post at a later date.