Maintaining clinical placements

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Medical students are tomorrow's doctors. Clinical placements are important as they prepare students to become good doctors. Students will learn and develop a number of skills on placement, including giving physical examinations, taking patient histories and communicating with patients and with other team members. As well as learning about professionalism in medicine, placements allow students to network with members of the healthcare team and ask them questions about their roles and specialties.

Clinical placements during the Covid-19 pandemic 

In order to ensure that medical students receive all the training that is needed to meet the General Medical Council’s Outcomes for Graduates, before graduation medical students will need to be able to see and take part in the treatment of real patients under supervision. Whilst it is possible to support some learning online and through simulation, particularly in the early years of medical studies, clinical placements must be made available and maintained for students. 

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, placement capacity within the NHS will not return to pre-pandemic levels for some time. Our statement on clinical placements and FAQs for students make clear some of the challenges of returning students to placements and provide advice on how placement capacity can be managed. The first priority for all medical schools will be their final year students. It is vital that these students are able to graduate in 2021 in order so that they can start their professional lives in the NHS.

Risk assessments 

Returning students to placements is not without risk; Covid-19 will be present in some clinical environments and students will therefore be at risk of contracting it. Fortunately, most medical students are in an age group where their risk of serious illness as a result of Covid 19 is low. There will be some students where their personal circumstances increases their risk and this will need to be carefully managed. The Medical Schools Council has published guidance on risk assessments which explains how medical schools may mitigate the risks to students on placement.

Patient consent and confidentiality 

Patients must always consent to a student being present during a consultation, regardless of whether it is a face-to-face or remote consultation. Whilst verbal consent is likely to be sufficient for a student attending a remote consultation, if the session is to be recorded then it is best practice for written consent to be obtained. 

All patients have a right to expect that their doctors will hold information about them in confidence. Confidentiality is central to trust between doctors and patients. However, confidentiality is not absolute, and appropriate information sharing is essential to the efficient provision of safe, effective care. Medical students will learn about this at medical school, but need to be aware that they must never share confidential information about a patient with anyone who is not directly involved in their care without the patient's permission. 

The General Medical Council (GMC) and Medical Schools Council (MSC) have published guidance on the standards of behaviour expected of medical students in Achieving good medical practise: guidance for students.

Remote consultations 

The ongoing challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic mean some patient contact will now be virtual. In these challenging circumstances medical students are still expected to observe the same high standards of personal and professional conduct observed under normal circumstances. The specific rules relating to your placements will be provided to you by your medical school. However, we have developed high level advice that students should follow for all remote placements and virtual learning opportunities.

Winter travel and remote placements 

Some students will be undertaking placements that are some distance away from their base at university. The distance students need to travel varies across the country and some of you will be staying in accommodation at remote sites to facilitate your attendance at these placements. Medical schools understand that this is a difficult situation and that students may wish to return to their base at university when they are not timetabled to be on placement to access support from family and friends.

The key priority for medical schools, and students themselves, is to keep placements open and available as learning opportunities and in due course for students to progress and graduate. As students classed as essential workers it may be possible for them to return to their fixed, term time address when not on placement. However, this is dependent on local and national policies and you should follow the guidelines set by your medical school.

Click here to read MSC's winter travel guidance.

MSC guidance on clinical placements