The volunteer delivery service providing essential coronavirus testing equipment to patients across South Tyneside

Case study summary

As the COVID-19 infection rate increased rapidly across the country at the end of March, South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), supported by North of England Commissioning Support Unit (NECS CSU), knew something needed to be done to help their local GP practices safely diagnose coronavirus, while ensuring that surgeries were kept COVID-free to protect other patients and staff.

The CCG worked with Inspire South Tyneside, an umbrella body for the voluntary and community sector, to invite non-clinical volunteers to join the South Tyneside ‘SATS Squad’ (an acronym for saturation levels) in April 2020, to deliver self-monitoring equipment to the homes of patients displaying coronavirus symptoms

The idea

On receiving a phone call or text message (EMIS) appointment booking from the surgery, the SATS Squad delivered equipment such as fingertip pulse oximeters and thermometers to a patient’s home. The Squad wore full PPE and made no contact when delivering equipment to patients. The Squad was also trained to decontaminate equipment before and after patient use.

The patient was asked to record their own oxygen levels and temperature before reporting their results to their GP or an advanced nurse practitioner during a virtual consultation. Remote monitoring enabled the clinical practitioner to accurately detect symptoms of the virus using results collected and subsequent treatment or monitoring options for the patient, without having to come into contact with that patient at any point.

Making a difference to practices and patients

In the first five weeks, the Squad successfully delivered medical equipment to over 170 patients across the region. Seventeen of the 21 practices across South Tyneside were able to offer patients presenting with coronavirus symptoms a virtual consultation, with the patient monitoring their own symptoms.

The service received great feedback from staff, noting it had been “a great success” . Damien Power, East PCN Clinical Director, said: “I have used the service many times myself, and the volunteers who have been a part of the Squad have provided an invaluable service. We need to have a special event to celebrate the SATS Squad and to say thank you when it’s all over”.

GPs from the Central Surgery in South Shields commented that, “The SATS Squad were there when we needed them. They provided a responsive and effective service, which helped us put our patients at ease”.

South Tyneside CCG Chair and Clinical Director also commended the Squad, thanking them for their “time, commitment and expertise over the last three months. It has demonstrated more than ever the collective spirit of the residents of South Tyneside and what we can deliver together.”

The service significantly reduced the number of patients needing face-to-face GP appointments, as well as the number of hospital admissions across the region. Patients who did require urgent and emergency care could access services more quickly than previously possible.

Going above and beyond

The SATS Squad ran through to July 2020 before being stood down over the summer. However, with the number of cases beginning to rise again in South Tyneside before the second national lockdown, the service was restarted and has been commissioned until the end of March 2021.

Previously, the SATS Squad service ran exclusively on weekdays, but coordinators have extended this to become a more flexible, seven-day service. Other areas across Sunderland and Durham are now offering the service as part of the COVID Oximetry @home model, following a pilot in the Tees area.

Going forward, the CCG will also consider whether the SATS Squad can link in with other COVID-19  responses, including community support and shopping assistance, to provide a more holistic approach to patient care.