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UEA students offer childcare support for NHS staff

As the UK rallies around to try and support the nation’s tireless NHS staff, UEA’s students in medicine, nursing and occupational therapy have been doing their own bit to lend a helping hand by providing childcare for key healthcare workers.

Helping Hands East Anglia is the eastern arm of a national movement to bring together medical students with the families of healthcare workers to offer free childcare relief.

The strain placed on the NHS by coronavirus has left those on the frontline more at risk of contracting the virus, as well as having to work long hours and react at short notice to shift changes. With schools across the country now also closed, many of those with young families have struggled to find safe and suitable childcare – and the issue only looks set to intensify with the strain on the NHS forecast to increase in the weeks ahead.

Helping Hands East Anglia is run by students at UEA’s Norwich Medical School and is providing childcare support in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and North Essex, with staff at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) and the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH) in Great Yarmouth, as well as hospitals in Ipswich and Colchester, already linking up with volunteers.

The group already has close to 500 members on its Facebook page, with over 50 student volunteers from UEA’s medicine, nursing and occupational therapy students now verified and signed up to the scheme, and 12 of them already paired up with NHS employees and going to their homes to provide a childminding service for children up to the age of 14.

Many final year students at Norwich Medical School are already providing frontline NHS support but those who are not yet qualified to assist in this way have had placements and exams cancelled.

The service has already been running for over a week, with each student presenting their ID and confirmation of an approved DBS check to the family before they start their voluntary work and organisers orchestrating regular checks with the volunteers to ensure the arrangement is running smoothly.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement last week that only essential workers would be allowed to leave their homes to work, the national Helping Hands Relief Childcare group were granted an exemption from government for all their regional groups to continue to run the scheme.

Helping Hands East Anglia is jointly run by final-year UEA medical student Tanya Ta, along with fellow medical students Jessica Huddleston and Shinjal Sharma. On top of overseeing the scheme, Tanya is also spending 48 hours a week volunteering with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital as a Senior Medical Student Clinical Assistant, where she assists junior doctors with duties such as interacting with patients and medical record keeping.

Tanya said: “We actually started talking about this a couple of weeks before the coronavirus crisis really started to hit the UK. We could see it starting to build elsewhere and knew that if the worst happened that our NHS staff would still need to go to work – but how would they be able to do that if they were worrying about their loved ones?

“We have made the arrangements as secure as we possibly can but we do state that we’re not an official childcare provider, we’re just trying to help those who are providing so much help for others in the most effective way we can. I’m pleased to say that so far we’ve had really positive feedback from parents, children and student volunteers about the way that it’s working.

“I’d particularly like to thank to Prof Dylan Edwards and Prof Alys Burns, whose support has been key in setting this up.”

Helping Hands East Anglia are currently providing childcare for staff who work at NNUH, JPUH, Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust or GP practices in Norfolk and Waveney CCG and are keen to hear from anyone who would benefit.

If you're a medical or nursing student and would be interested in getting involved, you can fill out the online form.

To get in touch with the group for any further enquiries, please email reliefchildcarenhseastanglia@gmail.com.