JUNIOR doctors have joined NHS ranks months earlier than anticipated as they join other medics in the Covid-19 crisis.

Final year medical students saw their exams and planned overseas placements disrupted as the coronavirus pandemic locked down the UK.

The General Medical Council agreed alternative forms of final assessment and allowed many students to start work as junior doctors three months before the traditional start date in early August.

Doctors Kate Ledbury and Kati O’Brien, who both studied at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, are working in Basildon Hospital’s stroke unit. They are among six year one doctors who started at Basildon, along with ten at Southend and eight at Broomfield in Chelmsford.

Although students at Barts managed to complete their exams, Dr Ledbury missed out on a three-month overseas placement in Australia, where she would have worked on a helicopter in emergency medicine.

Dr O’Brien planned to work for three months with ophthalmology services in Australia and the Philippines. Instead, the pair responded to the challenges facing the NHS during the Covid-19 crisis by starting their first year of training early and practising as junior doctors.

Dr O’Brien said: “When the lockdown happened, I just really wanted to start using all the skills I had spent years learning while the knowledge was still fresh.

“Any experience working in a hospital with patients and colleagues is brilliant and it is good to get involved at this time.”

Dr Ledbury said: “We had spent years training, so if we can help then it’s good, we can put our skills to use.”

None of the early starters are working on Covid-19 wards, but all doctors now wear PPE when with patients.

Dr Johnson Samuel, director of medical education for Mid and South Essex Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “They have made a huge sacrifice to come in on the frontline and they are getting a head start after all those years of study.

“Having such enthusiastic and selfless junior doctors coming through the system has further boosted my admiration for our young colleagues and it is a privilege to work alongside them.”