Vulnerable and isolated patients waiting to go into hospital will be tested for COVID-19 at home by St John Ambulance volunteers, in a scheme that’s the first of its kind in this country.

The charity’s new partnership with Chase Farm Hospital (CFH) in Enfield is aimed at people who cannot access a drive-through testing centre by private car or may be too unwell or infirm to leave their home.

All patients must follow strict self-isolation guidelines and have a nose and throat swab test 48 to 72 hours before a routine operation or procedure.

Working with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, which runs CFH, the new scheme will see trained St John first aiders visit the patient in the community and do a swab either on their doorstep, in their home, or in a special vehicle as part of their surgery or procedure pre-assessment.

Dierdre Barr (RN), St John Ambulance regional clinical manager, said: “Our volunteers will offer care, compassion and reassurance to patients. They will be able to talk the patient through the procedure, and thanks to the volunteers’ additional training will be able to ensure it’s done correctly; we hope this will provide the hospital with timely and accurate results as they begin to reintroduce routine surgery and procedures.

“We’re incredibly proud to be playing our part in providing this service, providing equality of healthcare for all, and putting St John back into the heart of our local communities.”

This is the first St John Ambulance community-based COVID-19 patient testing scheme in the country and may prove to be essential for those who are housebound living in high-rise buildings or who feel unable to leave their home because of mobility issues. 

Tom Nettleton, emergency care practitioner at CFH, who has led on training delivery to the St John volunteers and volunteers for St John Ambulance himself in his free time, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be the first hospital to be working in partnership with the St John volunteers to offer this service. Their support will be invaluable as we move forward to restarting operations and procedures for patients.”

Natalie Forrest, chief executive of CFH, said: “This has come about as part of St John Ambulance’s incredible response and support for the NHS during COVID-19. Chase Farm Hospital are piloting this new service and I think it is absolutely brilliant because it allows us to offer additional support to those who may otherwise struggle with a self-test at home and it enables those who are self-isolating to maintain their isolation. Potentially this could lead to the initiative being rolled out elsewhere.
“This service also serves to reassure our patients that every measure is being taken to ensure they are safe to come to Chase Farm Hospital for their surgery.”

The St John volunteers are all qualified first aiders or advanced first aiders and have received additional St John Ambulance COVID-19 training in line with Government recommendations and clinical expertise from NHS England.

They have also completed further training with the clinical team at CFH and undertaken shifts in the COVID-19 drive-through testing centre, before heading out to do swabs on patients at home.

They will be fully equipped with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and upon arrival the patients will have the choice of visiting the St John treatment centre vehicle for the swab (vehicle surfaces will be wiped down between patients) or the volunteers can carry out the swab in patient’s homes.

Nezahet Lata, 61, from Golders Green, attends her pre-op swab. Nezahet's shoulder operation had to be delayed due to COVID-19 but has now been rescheduled for later this week.

In addition, St John volunteers will continue to work in the hospital’s drive-through COVID-19 testing centre and will soon be taking on this role full-time to release the hospital’s clinical staff back onto the NHS frontline.

The health and first aid charity is supporting the NHS and communities in its biggest deployment during peacetime, to meet the challenge of the COVID-19 crisis. For more information visit