• Final year students and first year doctors could be called to treat coronavirus cases
  • Warnings of three weeks of “huge pressure” on NHS due to virus
  • Coronavirus vaccine will not be available this year 

Final year medical students could be drafted in to work in hospitals and first year doctors have their responsibilities extended if the NHS comes under severe pressure from increasing coronavirus cases, the chief medical officer has said.

Chris Whitty told MPs today these measures would be considered in addition to the emergency re-registration of recently retried doctors if NHS hospitals are overwhelmed with new coronavirus cases.

Professor Whitty told the Health and Social Care Committee: “One of the things which is clear, if you model out the epidemic, is [that] we will get 50 per cent of all the cases over a three-week period and 95 per cent of the cases over a nine-week period if it follows a trajectory we think it’s likely to.”

Active coronavirus cases are decreasing rapidly in China, but there is a “slim to zero” chance that the global spread of the virus will be slowed and the number of community-transmitted coronavirus cases in the UK is likely to go up, Professor Whitty said.

Coronavirus has been declared as a nartional incident by NHS England.

The UK’s emphasis should be on delaying the spread of the virus he said, as there will be no available vaccine for the coronavirus for at least a year, Professor Whitty told MPs.

He said he was confident that a large number of recent retired doctors would be willing to go back to work to help with coronavirus cases if needed, but added the NHS would only be contacting those who had retired in the last two to three years.

“Doctors go into medicine for a reason, if there was a crisis and they thought they could help, I’m confident we’d get a lot of volunteers”, he said.

Professor Whitty added that there would be a “long period between knowing we have an epidemic and its peak,” and that the government would not intervene by taking such measures as closing schools until it absolutely has to.

Meanwhile, figures published today by NHS England laid bare the pressure being placed on the NHS 111 service, which has not been able to keep up with the unprecedented demand. The number of times people dialled 111 in the week ending 1 March was 442,675, an increase of 79,000 on the the previous seven-day period. However, it had only managed to answer 340,702 calls, a rise of 22,000.