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Essex students volunteer in labs testing for COVID-19

  • Date

    Wed 29 Apr 20

Student Joe Wilmshurst working in a lab, wearing a white coat and purple gloves

Final-year biomedical science students have volunteered to help NHS staff deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fourteen students who successfully completed NHS placements last year as part of their course have applied to be temporarily registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) so they can work in hospitals now, before officially graduating in the summer.

As well as the final-year volunteers, some of the University’s third-year biomedical science students have been working in laboratories which have been involved with COVID-19 testing projects as part of their placement year.

One of these students, Joseph Wilmshurst, is currently on placement at the Respiratory Virus Unit at Public Health England Colindale.

Since starting his placement in September 2019, Joseph had been heavily involved in the processing of samples from patients with flu-like illnesses during the flu season. His primary role was confirming patient cases of influenza, but he also contributed to the evaluation of the impact the flu and other diseases were having on at-risk groups, different population demographics and primary and secondary healthcare.

This work was enhanced in February in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“As a result, I was involved in the processing and testing of patient samples from the outset,” explained Joseph. “Having been involved in a busy flu season, and the experience I gained from this, I knew that I would be able to offer support to my colleagues in testing samples while operating under pressure and meeting turnaround targets.

“It is good to be involved in a current and ever-changing situation and, more than ever, feel that I am making a positive impact on patient care and public health.”

Final-year biomedical science student Vladislava Kutukova, who is currently volunteering across four departments at Ipswich Hospital, added: “I am glad I can help society in this difficult time.”

Anmol Chowdhury, currently on placement at the Enteric Virus Unit at Public Health England Colindale, said: “I wanted to get involved as it would be a great opportunity to get frontline experience in detection and how pandemics are handled.”

He is currently awaiting training so he can get involved with sequencing of the coronavirus strain.

Dr Selwa Alsam, Director of the biomedical science course at the University’s School of Life Sciences, said although some hospitals have advised the placement students to work from home during the crisis, it had no deterred their enthusiasm to help during this difficult time for the NHS.

“Jaimee Nicholls, our current placement student at Pathology First at Basildon Hospital insisted she wanted to help the NHS during this time,” explained Dr Alsam. “Her training officer said ‘Jaimee has seen how short staffed the Histology lab has become over the past week and she wishes to stay at work to support the lab. We really appreciate and admire her positive attitude and loyalty to the department’.”

Dr Alsam is an expert in infection control and has worked alongside infection control teams for several years on bacterial and viral infections at Public Health and other NHS Departments. She has also volunteered to help local hospitals during the crisis.

“We are so pleased our current placement students and final year students are able to contribute to this very important work during this pandemic,” she added. “This will improve student motivation and is a great way for them to get involved in the community. It’s a unique experience for our students which will be remembered for many years to come. I am proud of them!”