Meet the Edinburgh student medics babysitting children of NHS staff during the pandemic

By volunteering, you’ll be helping more NHS personnel get to work


University of Edinburgh medics have helped set up an initiative to babysit the children of NHS workers on a voluntary basis while they are at work, as a way of helping them out amongst the coronavirus pandemic.

Now that schools have closed, many NHS staff have limited options as to how to look after their children in the coming months. For many the decision will come down to staying off work, which will increase the pressure placed on other colleagues, or leaving children in the care of more vulnerable relatives – placing those relatives at risk of infection.

Instead, people from our age group – who are at far lower risk – have stepped in to help, to alleviate this added stress on NHS staff and keep experienced personnel on the frontline.

I am a 5th year medical student at the University of Edinburgh. I have been following the global spread of coronavirus for many weeks now. As the case numbers abroad climbed, I felt increasingly unsettled observing people in my community continuing their day-to-day life. It was when our placements were cancelled two weeks ago that we decided it was time to find out what we could do to help.

My colleague Jenny and I had heard from a number of clinicians on placement that they were concerned about the eventual closure of schools and what that would mean for their own children. We entertained the idea of setting up a babysitting service. We reached out to a senior member of staff as to what the Medical School’s position would be. The response received was that it would be “logistically tricky”, but that they would bear it in mind.

Aware that time was of the essence, we created The Edinburgh Medics’ Share, a Facebook group allowing NHS workers to connect with healthcare students for free emergency babysitting whilst at work. It quickly gained traction through word-of-mouth, with professionals and healthcare students alike rallying to it and childcare already being organised. We reached out to an ICU consultant and a doctor specialising in how infectious diseases spread. With advisors from these two crucial fields we set to work on ways in which we could most effectively facilitate childcare with the following aims in mind. 

Firstly, we wanted to minimise the number of frontline personnel forced to be absent from work due to difficulties making provisions for their children. Secondly, we needed to protect older/vulnerable relatives from risk of transmission from children who might otherwise be the only option for childcare. Thirdly, we needed to think about how to reduce the risk of viral transmission within this babysitting community. 

A photo of me and my Dad. 22 years later, and he’s still working in the ICU

In order to achieve the above aims to the greatest effect we knew that the Facebook group wasn’t enough. Facebook’s algorithms would push already popular posts to the top of people’s feeds, with unanswered babysitting requests being lost further down. It would also require a lot of work hours to vet ‘join requests’ in order to keep the space secure.

We needed a marketplace forum that could facilitate parents connecting with sitters, that would handle sensitive data in a secure way, and would have the algorithms necessary to network sitters and parents in such a way so as to limit any spread of infection within our sitting community. Our homework for the evening was to find a babysitting app. 

But, as it transpired, the babysitting app found us.

Bubble had heard what we were trying to do through the MedTwitter grapevine and got in touch that evening. After an initial chat over Skype with myself, Jenny and Bubble CEO Ari, it became clear that Bubble was this ideal platform that met all three of the requirements outlined above. Their team of developers are now working around the clock to bring the release of this app feature as soon as possible so we can start making a difference.

Once everything is set up, all babysitters will be able to toggle between their normal fixed rate, and voluntary NHS work. NHS staff will have access to free unlimited sits from sitters working on a voluntary basis. Bubble prides itself on being a secure platform, and so will request the necessary documentation for background checks when sitters sign up. All students with relevant background checks can sign up and get involved, but medical students will be able to streamline their sitter verification process by sending through a copy of their certificate of matriculation or certificate of student status, as found on EUCLID. The regular sitter feature is already live and the NHS parent feature is live early next week.

**BUBBLE NHS – SITTER APP DOWNLOAD LINK BELOW**Myself and some colleagues have partnered with leading on-demand…

Posted by Sam Bresland on Thursday, 26 March 2020

The NHS feature is going live nationwide, so tell your friends who have left Edinburgh that they can help too. You can download Bubble from the App Store, or via Google. The Bubble NHS service will be available to staff as of next week, so we need as many volunteers onboard ahead of time in preparation for this!

I would encourage all students to get involved, as by volunteering on Bubble, you will be ensuring more NHS personnel can get to work, protecting elderly grandparents from infection, and boosting NHS as well as national morale.