A selfless group of student medics have signed up to babysit the children of NHS staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fifth-year medical student Sam Bresland set up a voluntary babysitting service to help NHS workers get to their shifts.
As schools closed last week, the undergraduate was aware of the limited childcare options for NHS staff and so set up a group for medical students to volunteer their time.
Not yet in his final year, Sam is unable to help on the frontline and so began brainstorming other ways to help.
Sam, 22, said: “Everyone’s got loved ones that are at risk and may need help from the NHS at some point in the coming months, so we just want to make sure the NHS is as strong as we can possibly get it.
“People from our age group – who are at far lower risk – have stepped in to help, to alleviate this added stress on NHS staff and keep experienced personnel on the frontline.
“It was when our placements were cancelled two weeks ago that we decided it was time to find out what we could do to help.
“My colleague Jenny and I had heard from a number of clinicians on placement that were concerned about the eventual closure of schools and what that would mean for their own children.
“We entertained the idea of setting up a babysitting service.
“We reached out to a senior member of staff as to what the Medical School’s position would be – the response received was that it would be ‘logistically tricky’, but that they would bear it in mind.”
The pair created The Edinburgh Medics’ Share Facebook group where NHS workers could connect with healthcare students for free emergency babysitting.
Absent from work
Explaining their aim, Sam said: “Firstly, we wanted to minimise the number of frontline personnel forced to be absent from work due to difficulties making provisions for their children.
“Secondly, we needed to protect older or vulnerable relatives from risk of transmission from children who might otherwise be the only option for childcare.
“Thirdly, we needed to think about how to reduce the risk of viral transmission within this babysitting community.
“I had a strong suspicion that it would become this big – just following what has been going on in China and Italy over the past two months or so.
“I was like, ‘there’s definitely a need for this’ – so when it got big, I wasn’t particularly surprised.
“For me this is really important because both my parents are on the frontline.
“Back home in Darlington, my dad is an ICU consultant and my mum is doing intensive care nursing at the minute – they’re exposed a lot to this virus.
“If this was to take off back home, then more staff can get to work back home in our local district general hospital and then it’s safer for my parents.”
However, the pair knew the facebook group wasn’t full proof – algorithms would push popular requests to the top of people’s feeds, while unanswered requests would fall further down.
Alongside the pair’s group of volunteers in Edinburgh, other groups were forming across the country – they came together to develop the National Health Supports website, allowing anyone in the UK to find volunteers near them willing to assist NHS staff with their childcare needs.
As well as babysitting, the site claims volunteers can also help with grocery shopping and pet sitting.
Babysitting app Bubble heard of the pair’s work on Twitter, leading to a skype call between Sam, Jenny and Bubble CEO Ari Last.
According to Sam, the app’s development team is working to release this nationwide app feature on Tuesday (tomorrow).
All babysitters will be able to toggle between their normal fixed rate and voluntary NHS work.
Medical students will be able to streamline their sitter verification process by sending through a copy of their certificate of matriculation or certificate of student status.
NHS staff will have access to free unlimited sits.
Free of charge
In a statement issued on March 20, Bubble said: “Across the country, medical students, NHS staff groups and other stakeholders in the medical community have decided that they will offer childcare (and other) services to NHS workers voluntarily, free of charge.
They added: “Hundreds of existing sitters on Bubble have already expressed a willingness to help as well.
“Inspired by their actions and now working in partnership with them, we at Bubble have committed to developing our existing booking platform to facilitate their phenomenal initiative.
“We are shortly launching a service that will enable NHS workers to get free childcare by connecting them with childcare volunteers in their local community.
NHS Parents can register their interest on their website and will be notified once the service is live.
Talking of who can get involved Sam said: “I would encourage all students to get involved.
“By volunteering on Bubble you will be ensuring more NHS personnel can get to work, protecting elderly grandparents from infection, and boosting NHS as well as national morale.”