'Life-saving' health heroes standing down after two years helping South Tyneside patients during Covid-19 pandemic
Volunteers who saved lives by bringing vital oxygen tests to patients' homes during the worst of the pandemic are set to complete their final shifts this week.
As the first wave of Covid-19 spread like wildfire in early 2020, South Tyneside GPs realised they could make better clinical decisions if they could get pulse oximeters into patients' homes quickly.
By measuring the oxygen in a person's red blood cells, pulse oximeters help doctors decide whether they need hospital care – and can help them avoid being admitted unnecessarily.
With support from NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group, South Tyneside Council and Inspire South Tyneside, 17 volunteers came forward including students, ex-service personnel and retired people.
After training in infection control and social distancing, the team quickly hit the road.
GP practices would text an address and volunteers would head straight out, leave the kit on the doorstep and step back safely.
The patient then tested their oxygen saturation level, with a GP helping by phone or video.
At times when a patient’s figures were worse than expected, an ambulance was sent straight out.
"There is no doubt that the Sats Squad have saved lives," said Dr Dave Julien, a clinical director at NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group.
"With the NHS under huge pressure, they have saved GPs' time and helped hundreds of patients.
"In their own time, they have delivered almost 900 pulse oximeters, and we owe them a huge vote of thanks."
Chas Buchanan, a retired solicitor who fronts a popular local group, the Black Corner Band, joined the squad after his wife spotted an appeal for volunteers.
"It's been such a good group, always helping each other out even though most of us have barely ever met in person.
"It was an alarming time and health professionals were working their socks off, so I was delighted to be able to contribute in such a fulfilling way.
"I'd much rather be out there doing something to help. After one visit to a house in Jarrow, the GP rang me and said we'd saved that lady's life. If she hadn't been tested quickly, the consequences could have been extremely serious."
Jackie Lambert, practice manager at Farnham Medical Centre, said: “During the pressures of the pandemic, it's been great to know we could rely on the Sats Squad to help our hard-pressed doctors.
"There have been so many positive comments, and doctors have had more time to help patients rather than driving around the borough."