Nearly qualified students will take the place of qualified staff in ambulances to quickly ramp up the available numbers of frontline paramedics in Worcestershire.

West Midlands Ambulance Service told staff that qualified ambulance staff who usually go out in pairs will be split and a qualified paramedic or technician will now be accompanied by a year 3 university student.

Before, the students would have assisted the qualified double-crew as an additional person during placements.

It means the service can double up its ambulance capacity in the face of demand due to Coronavirus.

The students will only be allowed to work to the same level as their accompanying qualified partner - either as a 'technician' or as a more advanced 'paramedic' - and will not be allowed to drive ambulances, especially in emergency situations.

It means a critically-ill patient may need to be cared for in the back of ambulance by an unqualified student while the qualified paramedic or technician drives to hospital.

While alone in the back of the ambulance, students are only allowed to administer basic, low level interventions - although administering drugs is "at the discretion of the clinician" and they must confirm the dosage.

The ambulance trust says it "will support clinicians" fearing the repercussions of leaving a student in the back of an ambulance with a critically-ill patient as long as the decision "is in the best interests of the patient."

One WMAS staff member said: "We hate it.

"We already feel like we're being sent into the lion's den.

"Now, we're not even with a qualified clinician."

West Midlands Ambulance Service said the move would begin at Bromsgrove, which has the biggest station and has already expanded to fit in extra ambulances, parking and staff facilities.

However, it is likely to be rolled out to the rest of Worcestershire as the crisis grows.

In a letter to staff, the trust said: "We are heading into unprecedented times, with demand expected to be above normal certain measures need to take place.

"Current year 3 students from across the four universities (including Worcester) have been approached and agreed to work as part of frontline crews.

"To accommodate this double qualified crews at Bromsgrove will be split to work with the students.

"They will be employed as Ambulance Care Assistants."

The letter says, at training school, the students "cover basic life support, manual handling and are assessed on using the Stryker and Ferno Carry Chair, they cover legal aspects of medication administration, and are told what they are expected to do whilst on duty."

In a statement, West Midlands Ambulance Service said: "These are students who are just weeks away from qualifying and have spent thousands of hours on our ambulances, working with our staff, treating patients.  They are very well trained and experienced already.

"All of them will work with fully qualified paramedics and technicians on the road.  As of Monday, this has allowed us to double the number of ambulances operating from our Bromsgrove Hub, where we have gone from 20 crews a day to 40.

"A further 130 Year 2 university graduate paramedics have also been taken on to work as assistants to our vehicle preparation operatives; the staff who play a vital role cleaning and re-stocking our ambulances which allows our clinical staff to spend more time treating patients.  This will double our capacity at a time when this role has never been more important.

"Emergency Services Operations Delivery Director, Nathan Hudson, said: “We are receiving huge support from our university students who are desperate to do their part to help the nation at this time.  Many are already very familiar to our staff and the response we have had from the team at Bromsgrove has been incredible with the students made to feel very welcome.

“These students would have qualified over the next few weeks as HCPC registered paramedics so are a tremendous asset for us and I have no doubt that they will help to save many lives over the coming weeks.  I am incredibly proud of the students and also our staff for doing the right thing to help patients.”

"Our existing staff are also playing their part. With the number of non-emergency appointments significantly reduced, 320 of our patient transport service staff have agreed to undertake additional training so that we can significantly increase our ability to transport GP patient referrals, hospital discharges and low acuity patients where appropriate using strict protocols."