Feb 12, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

As the UK's National Health Service, or NHS, works its way through one of its worst winter health crises, hospitals have resorted to asking medical and undergraduate students for help.

The Guardian reports that despite inexperience, students are being asked to "fit cannulas – the tubes inserted so patients can receive medication – and take blood, work usually done by nurses or qualified doctors."

Some doctors at hospitals fear potential legal ramifications.

According to The Guardian, Dr. Andrew Hassell, the head of Keele University’s medical school asked students for their help.

In an email, he said, “We’re sure you don’t need us to tell you about the extraordinary situation the whole of the NHS is facing this winter." He added, "As the medical school for this area we think we should be doing whatever we can to support local services while maintaining student learning. We are sure you will want to be part of our collective effort at this time of national crisis."

This request has Harrison Carter, co-chair of the British Medical Association's (BMA) medical students committee worried. He told The Guardian, "Not only would this be exploitation of students who may be reluctant to say no, but it raises concerns over patient safety if those working on the frontline are asked to work beyond clinical competence."

Dr. Nick Scriven, the president of the Society for Acute Medicine, is also concerned. He told The Guardian, "These students would need close supervision from already pushed and stressed acute ward doctors so there might not be a massive benefit in savings. Of course in the ‘war zones’ some of our units are at present there could be no guarantee they get the supervision they require to practice safely, which is a safety concern."

Dr. Scriven also expressed concern over the liability in the event of an error. 

For now, hospitals in the UK will labor on with the shortage--and hopefully will come to a solution that does not put anyone's safety at increased risk.

Learn more about studying medicine in the UK. 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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