Junior doctor from Staffordshire tells of struggles fighting Covid-19 on NHS frontline

A junior doctor from Staffordshire has spoken of his struggles and the difficulties faced on the frontline during Covid-19.

Dr James Chambers, from Stone, worked in the Royal Stoke University Hospital's busy critical care unit amid the pandemic.

He was one of thousands of final-year medical students across the UK who were deployed to the frontline across the NHS.

Foundation Interim Year One (FiY1) posts were created so junior doctors could be fast-tracked to tackle the surge in the virus.

Dr Chambers, aged 24, said: "When we were asked to help out, we weren’t quite sure what we would be letting ourselves in for, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to contribute to something much greater than ourselves and myself and colleagues leapt at the opportunity to get involved.

"One of my first struggles was getting used to working in PPE. In summer it was far too warm and it was difficult to hear with the masks.

"Everything took longer too – changing PPE between patients on the ward round and cleaning everything down felt exhausting. But I think like everything, you adjust to it and now it just feels like normal.

"The best bit of the experience has been interacting with patients’ relatives and friends. Everyone is so thankful for everything we’re doing. It’s really humbling to hear and often helps you get through the day. I remember a five-year-old girl’s voice on the telephone saying 'thank you for looking after my daddy, doctor' – that was a really sweet moment for me.

"Being on the frontline at an earlier stage has helped to improve my independence as a clinician, making me a more confident doctor as a result. It’s helped to build our resilience for the future."

The junior doctor – and many of his fellow students – had finished their final year as medical students and were counting down to when they would graduate and officially become doctors, before he was drafted in to fight the virus.

He was joined in the role by 24-year-old Dr Bravean Kulendrarajah who grew up in London – and was initially asked to help out on the paediatric unit. And Dr Louise Baker, from Clavering near Cambridge, had also helped in the Covid-19 fight.

Under the usual Foundation Year One (FY1) system, medical practitioners undertake a two-year general postgraduate medical training programme – this forms the bridge between medical school and specialist or general practice training. But last year students had to start work straight away.

Volunteers were asked if they would like to join the interim programme for experience until their rotations commenced in August last year and medical staff, rota co-ordinators, medical staffing and occupational health staff at the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, raced against the clock with Keele University’s Medical School to have everyone in place as soon as possible.

Dr Mark Poulson, a consultant in emergency medicine and associate medical director for postgraduate medical and dental education, said: "The FiY1 role is a completely new one, with doctors deployed in the midst of the pandemic at relatively short notice.

"The FiY1 doctors have contributed enormously to our response and have rightly received high praise. The prospect of being launched into acute care early would have been incredibly daunting in normal times, but to do it because of a pandemic is really something else. They have thrived and risen to the challenge and we are very grateful to them for their support, selflessness and dedication."

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