Patients in Staffordshire are being given ‘grab bags’ containing key tech equipment so they can monitor their own health and avoid going into GP surgeries.

The initiative has been rolled out during the Covid-19 pandemic by Dr Jack Aw, who is a senior partner of Loomer Road Surgery, in Chesterton and Haymarket Health Centre, in Tunstall, Staffordshire.

Dr Aw has been collaborating with North West-based agency Redmoor Health, which specialises in showing the benefits of technology to frontline health and social care staff.

As a practice on their own, Loomer Medical Group serves a population of 28,000 patients, but in the primary care network, including three other practices, they serve 48,000 patients.

The ‘grab bags’ contain a blood pressure machine, a thermometer and an oximeter to measure oxygen levels in the blood and are being given to patients to take their own readings and relay them back to the doctor in a video consultation.

The bags are then returned to the surgery, thoroughly cleaned and given to the next patient.

For patients requiring help or assistance, a healthcare assistant, nurse, or any of the clinical team wearing PPE will visit the home of patients and do it for them.

Dr Aw started the trial with four grab bags worth up to £100 each but says it’s been so successful he plans to grow it to between 40-50 bags.

He said Covid-19 has forced surgeries to adopt tech and this is just another way of helping vulnerable patients avoid having to visit the surgery.

“Before coronavirus we were doing about 20 per cent of our consultations digitally and 80 per cent face-to-face,” he said. “With Covid-19 we brought in a total triage model with 99 per cent of consultations being done by video or over the phone.

“The reason for going digital is convenience and efficiency. If we could do 100 consultations using the old system we can do 150 now.

“The worst thing now would be to revert back to the old way of working. We have a finite amount of time and going digital allows us to flex. We need to reimagine what healthcare looks like in the future and grab bags are just one idea.

“This is the digital frontier. I don’t think we can go back to the previous system.

“We have four full-time and seven part-time GPs looking after 28,000 patients so we have to be innovative in how we use our finite resources.”

Dr Aw is also part of the North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Video Consultation Pilot, which connects GPs to care homes via Skype.

Health commissioners appointed Preston-based Redmoor Health to upskill GPs and care home staff in how to use online video technology.

Care home staff are trained in how to take basic measurements like a patient’s pulse, temperature and blood pressure and give that to GPs.

Dr Aw said: “The care home initiative is similar to the grab bags in that we’re able to see more patients and reduce our carbon footprint. Technology is a tool. It’s not the solution to every problem but it’s an enabler. Ultimately it’s about harnessing the benefits of modern technology to provide better healthcare.”

Marc Schmid, founder of Redmoor Health, added: “The ability to use technology to support the most vulnerable patients is a very important part of the battle against Covid-19. The disease has forced us all to change the way services are delivered and this great example is certainly one that primary care networks across the country are interested in replicating.”