Dr Paula Holt, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the College of Health and Social Care at the University of Derby, marks World Health Day by highlighting the contribution of universities to the fight to contain the spread of Covid-19.
When World Health Day was inaugurated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) 70 years ago, it will have been with the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-20 still within living memory.
It is hard to say how likely the event’s founders thought another virus might afflict the world in that way again. They may have even dreamed that by the 21st Century such catastrophes would become a virtual impossibility. And yet, here we are.
Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has spread across the globe with frightening speed, catching nations off-guard yet bringing the very best out of many millions of healthcare personnel working tirelessly, in spite of personal risk to themselves, to treat and care for those who have fallen ill after contracting the virus.
United in responsibility to each other
The sentiment of thinking globally, acting locally, more often linked with climate change, has subconsciously prompted everyone, almost without exception, within our communities to take responsibility for one another, and to recognise that each of us is not only at risk, but that our actions potentially increase or ameliorate that risk to others too; and this is a responsibility which unites us all across the world.
Universities have responded in the most supportive way possible to the current public health emergency, taking seriously their civic commitments as well as continuing to deliver education, while supporting their staff and large student populations. Universities across the country are reaching out to their communities, sharing their vast reserves of knowledge and skill, as well as the physical resources they possess.
Social value in a time of need
The value of universities is often scrutinised in terms of their economic return, with little consideration for their social contribution. At this time, we are seeing them react almost instinctively to help our society, even though they themselves have uncertainties to contemplate given the potential impact of the current emergency on university business, including recruitment.
Like almost all UK universities, Derby has moved teaching to online platforms, in line with government guidance, and we are committed to continuing student programmes and aiming to not disadvantage students during this difficult time for them.
With nursing and allied health students no longer on campus engaging in clinical learning in our state-of-the-art clinical skills suites, we have gathered the many thousands of items of PPE and cleaning items from across all our University sites and donated them to our local hospitals to bolster their stocks.
As of yesterday, our staff car park has become Derbyshire’s first temporary Primary Care Hub, assessing patients with COVID19 symptoms who have been given appointments, as well as providing other patient care services.
Applying knowledge to the crisis
Our students in nursing and allied health professional programmes are also supporting our health services. Around 500 second and third year undergraduate and postgraduate pre-registration nursing students are currently being deployed into placements to support the frontline, working in hospitals and care settings across the region.
Many allied health professionals, such as occupational therapists, are being invited to join an emergency register to enable them to practice within our health and care services too.
These placements have been made possible through an already strong and meaningful relationship not just with the NHS and Health Education England (HEE), but a range of health and social care providers. That connection has enabled us to provide that assistance seamlessly.
We talk a lot at Derby about the importance of applied education and training. Our students have demonstrated their aptitude and readiness to confront this crisis shoulder to shoulder with NHS staff, to support them in any way they can. Engagement has been outstanding with our service colleagues, and such engagement is being replicated by universities up and down the land.
Meeting multiple challenges
Though our contribution to the NHS and care services is just a small part of a huge national effort, we are proud to contribute in supporting and developing the current and future workforce. The nation is more mindful of the value of our NHS, which may previously have been taken for granted; its value is immeasurable, and its workforce recognised for the care, courage and commitment given selflessly, by true professionals.
The whole HE sector is making adjustments to continue to deliver education and training to our students; we are focussed on doing this to ensure our current students can progress towards the attainment of their degrees.
The HE sector is simultaneously responding to the twists and turns of this crisis: supporting students and newly registered professionals to join the frontline, opening up facilities as temporary hospitals and medical facilities to treat patients, developing diagnostic tests and breathing aids, and even making face masks for nursing staff.
Our colleagues from the University of Nottingham found themselves enlisting the help of the military for the logistics of moving its donated equipment, including huge cell culture cabinets, to the central testing facility in Milton Keynes.
Prior to my career in higher education, I served in the NHS and in the British Army, both are rightly revered as paragons of duty and protection of the nation.
Currently, our health care personnel are leading the charge, with our universities and our communities following closely behind, providing the reinforcement that we all have now come to depend upon to defeat this invisible enemy together.
For more information about the University of Derby’s contribution to the fight against coronavirus, visit the Coronavirus Community Information page of our website.