Students in their final year of medical school have been called by the health authorities to work at Mater Dei Hospital as part of efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak. 

In a call issued on Tuesday and seen by Times of Malta, the Health Ministry said the chosen fifth year students will “assist the medical doctors” in treating patients as well as “assist in the diagnostic tests and interpreting their outcomes and results, especially to identify the illness, such as infections and fever”.

The students will be paid €8.45 per hour. 

Medical sources told Times of Malta the authorities’ plan is to have the students carry out swab tests on those patients with coronavirus symptoms. 

While the placement is paid, the hours the students will work do not count as part of the required time they should spend working in a hospital. 

This has irked medical students who said the hours spent should count as part of the hours they must work to complete their course. 

One medical student said he was willing to work the hours for free, but only if the hours counted as part of his work placement. 

“This means that we might be working for three months without the hours being recognised as placement hours,” the student lamented.

Contacted for a reaction, the Malta Medical Students Association (MMSA) said it would be meeting to discuss the issue soon. 

‘Make sure they’re not on the frontline’ - doctors' association 

Meanwhile, Medical Association of Malta head Martin Balzon told Times of Malta that while it was a good move to rope in the students, they should not be on the frontline. 

Insisting the students must be paid for the hours they work, Balzan said they should only be tasked with desk jobs and not with treating patients, especially those who might have COVID-19. 

Such cases require a certain level of expertise, he said. 

On Tuesday, the health authorities confirmed eight new cases, bringing the total number of registered coronavirus cases in Malta to 38. 

The hospital has also started descaling normal operations in case the number of patients with the novel virus suddenly spikes.

Nursing students have also been called in, Times of Malta has learnt. According to the Malta Health Students Association (MHSA), final-year students reading for both degree and diploma courses can apply for a part time job at the hospital.

As with the doctors, the hours worked also do not count as part of their placement hours. Degree nurses will be paid €8.45 an hour while diploma students will get €7.91 an hour 

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