How volunteers are saving lives in South Tyneside in fight against coronavirus

Doctors have praised a team of volunteers for their life-saving work in South Tyneside as they help the NHS tackle coronavirus.

Wednesday, 29th April 2020, 3:27 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th April 2020, 4:29 pm

A group of 17 volunteers are delivering vital oxygen testing tests to Covid-19 patients at home in the borough.

Members of the team – named the Sats Squad – are on standby 24/7 to safely drop off oxygen saturation tests to a patient’s home.

Their efforts have been praised by doctors who say the tests help NHS staff to provide better care to those displaying symptoms.

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Sats Squad volunteers Phillipa Baulf and Steve Ashman.

In some cases the tests have resulted in an ambulance being sent for patient – ultimately saving their life.

Dr Dave Julien, a clinical director at NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group said: “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.”

If a test is needed GPs send a text with the address of the patient and a member of the team heads out with a pulse oximeter - leaving the kit on the patient’s doorstep before stepping back safely.

Volunteers Phillipa Baulf and Paul Edmed.

The patient then tests their own oxygen saturation level, with the GP helping by phone or video link.

Once it has been used, the kit is collected from the doorstep and cleaned thoroughly before moving on to the next patient.

The team, which includes ex-service personnel, students and retired residents have been trained in infection control and social distancing.

Volunteers have no patient contact, and no personal details other than the address.

Local resident Steve Ashman helps to coordinate the service – but says it’s a real team effort.

He commented: “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.”

As of Tuesday, April 28 there are 501 cases of coronavirus recorded in South Tyneside.

Dr Julien continued: “These are crucial figures in deciding what the patient needs.

“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 can register with the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme at or email [email protected] for other opportunities.

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