“You have just saved a life. An ambulance has been dispatched to rush the patient to hospital. Well done, everyone – we’re making a difference.”
Messages like this are all in a day’s work for a very special group of volunteers helping the NHS tackle coronavirus in South Tyneside.
The Sats Squad – named after the vital oxygen saturation tests they deliver to coronavirus patients at home – are regularly praised by local doctors for their work.
“The idea’s simple,” says Dr Dave Julien, a clinical director at NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group. “A fellow GP, Dr Russell Curtis, suggested we could make better clinical decisions for coronavirus patients at home if we could find a way to get a pulse oximeter into the person’s home quickly.
“Now we have a team of volunteers on standby every day to do just that. When a test is needed, the GP texts the address and one of the squad heads straight out, leaving the kit on the patient’s doorstep before stepping back safely.
“The patient then tests their own oxygen saturation level, with the GP helping by phone or video link.”
The 17-strong team, which includes ex-service personnel, students and retired people, have been trained in infection control and social distancing. The kit, once used, is collected from the doorstep and cleaned thoroughly before moving on to the next patient. Volunteers have no patient contact, and no personal details other than the address.
Local resident Steve Ashman helps to coordinate the service – but is quick to point out that it’s a real team effort: “We’re just a group of people who are glad to do something to help the NHS. The kits can help doctors decide when someone needs hospital care – or save someone being admitted unnecessarily.
“We’ve had situations where a patient’s figures showed they were much worse than the doctor had thought, so an ambulance has been sent straight out. This work can be time-consuming – but if we can save an hour for a GP, a nurse or a paramedic crew, that’s good enough for us.”
“These are crucial figures in deciding what the patient needs,” adds Dr Julien. “The scheme is simple, safe and anonymous – and it’s making a big difference in South Tyneside’s NHS.
“The volunteers have been incredible in their flexibility and hard work. We’ve also had vital support from Inspire South Tyneside, who brought the team together, and South Tyneside Council, who have provided vehicles and other support.”
The team is currently fully staffed with volunteers, but anyone interested in volunteering in South Tyneside can register with the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme at www.goodsamapp.org or email South Tyneside Council about other opportunities at LoveST@southtyneside.gov.uk.
If you know someone in South Tyneside who’s going above and beyond in the current situation, the @LoveSouthTyneside campaign wants to help us all say thank you, by celebrating what they do. To find out more, visit www.southtyneside.gov.uk/proud.