Students and staff from across the University of the Highlands and Islands have been lending their skills and resources to support the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic.

Over 120 nursing and midwifery students have started their final placements early to help bolster the NHS workforce. They are being employed as healthcare workers by NHS Highland and NHS Western Isles to contribute to the COVID-19 response. The university has also set up secondment arrangements with the NHS so that nursing and midwifery staff can work in clinical posts too.

Gillian Macsween, a student nurse at the department of nursing’s Western Isles campus, said: “While this has been a very overwhelming and trying time for all of those working on the frontline, as a student nurse, I consider it a privilege to have had the opportunity to apply my learning and contribute my practical skills towards supporting the COVID-19 effort.  Student nurse employment has successfully alleviated staffing pressures and workload demands; it is wonderful to be of aid to fellow NHS colleagues. This exposure to the very real-life challenges of healthcare, I believe, will stand me in good stead for my forthcoming transition from senior student nurse to newly graduated staff nurse and beyond.”

Perth College UHI, Argyll College UHI, North Highland College UHI, Lews Castle College UHI in Stornoway, SAMS UHI in Oban and the NAFC Marine Centre UHI in Shetland have donated equipment including gloves, hand sanitiser and aprons to healthcare providers across the region.

Chemicals from the university’s School of Health, Social Care and Life Science have been gifted to the NHS to help with coronavirus testing.

Several university partners have been supporting the production of visors. Perth College UHI’s creative industries department created a design for 3D printers and West Highland College UHI and Argyll College UHI have donated acetate sheets which are used to create visors. Colleagues at Lews Castle College UHI, Inverness College UHI, Moray College UHI and the NAFC Marine Centre UHI have being helping to produce visors using 3D printers.

Staff from the Highland Health Sciences Library at the Centre for Health Science in Inverness, meanwhile, have been contributing to efforts to gather and present the latest coronavirus information to assist NHS Highland’s public health department to plan and deal with the pandemic. The library has also been supporting pandemic work nationally and globally, including working with the World Health Organisation.

The university partnership has also offered vehicles, buildings, services and accommodation to support key workers across the Highlands and Islands. This includes facilities and equipment at the Centre for Health Science, vehicles from Argyll College UHI and residences at Moray College UHI in Elgin. As well as offering vehicles, North Highland College UHI has pledged drivers and logistics support for the NHS and government. Inverness College UHI is in discussions with Highland Council about opening up its Early Learning and Childcare Centre to provide childcare for essential workers.

Inverness College UHI has opened up one of its car parks at Inverness Campus to support the UK Government in its efforts to increase testing for NHS and other key workers. A drive through coronavirus testing facility will open in the college’s car park three on Inverness Campus on Sunday 26 April, operating on an appointment only basis. It will be piloted for its first few days of operation.

Professor Crichton Lang, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Highlands and Islands, said: “In addition to supporting our students and staff across the university partnership to continue their studies and day to day work, we are of course keen to do all that we can to help with the management of the wider impact of the current COVID-19 epidemic on people’s lives. I have huge appreciation for the efforts of all who are contributing, but especially to those students and staff who are engaging at the frontline of health and social care.”

Heidi May, NHS Highland’s Board Nurse Director, said: “We are extraordinarily grateful to the students coming to work alongside their NHS colleagues in caring for patients as part of the COVID19 effort. Their skills and their knowledge will help us make the difference for patients and their loved ones during this unprecedented time.