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Could volunteer Doctors reduce the pressure on care homes?

In the past couple of weeks, I came across a new initiative that is being launched in Paris, and wondered if it might stimulate some interest in the UK.

Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) is calling for volunteers to create mobile teams to help deal with the Covid-19 pandemic in elderly care homes in the Paris area. This comes as staff in these establishments struggle to deal with rising infection rates.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), known as Doctors without Borders, says it will focus its energies on building five to ten small teams of doctors with CQC registration who can visit nursing homes in the Paris area in the coming weeks.

The humanitarian organisation says it had already established this kind of help for over 50 centres during the first wave of the pandemic and saw the need to continue with their efforts.

"Keeping in line with our work to help those who have little or no access to healthcare, we wish to accompany establishments that have little or no medical structure in place," MSF’s research director Dr Jean-Hervé said”.

Employed by the NGO, the teams would be made up of a doctor, a nurse, and a psychologist who work in line with policies and procedures for supported living, he explained.

Not a replacement for the NHS

In France as in the UK care homes are struggling to cope with the ravages of the pandemic. In the UK NHS support is available so unlike France it is not dependant on volunteers. But it has to be said that the NHS has asked for volunteer support to help deal with COVID-19 cases in hospitals.

Dr Jean-Hervé  recognises that Ephad (nursing homes) need reinforcement to help care with sick people housed there," he said, adding that often these care homes had very little onsite medical facilities.

In the UK we rely on nursing staff where there is a considerable shortfall and providers are well aware of the difficulty in recruiting nurses.

As well as helping nursing staff with medical procedures, the teams would be on hand to "give advice on how to curb the spread of the virus and to continue organising family visits in safe conditions," he continued. 

Psychological support

MSF also considers the work important in terms of offering psychological support for the staff and the residents and providing assistance to install equipment such as oxygen machines.

While the programme is being launched in the Ile-de-France area, the NGO is looking at extending the service to other regions in France.

Staff are overwhelmed

The situation has become tense in many nursing homes (or Ephads) around France as staff find themselves overwhelmed with work, and hospitals across the country are increasingly full of serious Covid-19 cases.

One example is the L’EHPAD de Cayres in the Haute-Loire region which has seen their Covid infections shoot up in past weeks, with 33 positive cases out of 60 residents, as well as several deaths.

The staff, some of whom have been infected, are physically and mentally under increasing strain.

In response to the situation, the management has resorted to calling for volunteers in the medical sector from a nearby psychiatric hospital, supported by the medical unions.


This initiative by Médecins Sans Frontières has much to commend it. The organisation has responded to the crises in nursing homes where staff are struggling to cope with the demands of caring for people during the pandemic. Interestingly, the scheme has been approved by the unions. One doubts if the BMA would sanction the operation of such a voluntary source in the UK. Be that as it may I am sure that care homes in France would welcome the support offered by Médecins Sans Frontières. Especially, the psychological and practical support.

Why do I get the feeling that this voluntary scheme would not be acceptable in the UK? I feel confident that care providers would welcome the additional support and the recognition of the work that they do. But and it is a big but, would the BMA, CQC and the DHSC give it their blessing. I doubt it. Having said that if it is good enough for the NHS to recruit medical volunteers why not care homes?

Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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