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Neath Port Talbot

Virtual wards offer hands-on care closer to home

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Patients in Swansea Bay are benefiting from a new service which allows them to receive the care they need at home, avoiding admissions into hospital.

A ‘virtual ward’ provides wraparound support in the community to people with complex medical and social needs.

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Unlike a traditional ward being made up of beds in a physical hospital, the patients’ own beds become part of a virtual ward.

Patients’ care remains hands-on, but it’s given in the comfort of their own homes instead of a hospital.

The virtual bit of a virtual ward is the way multi-disciplinary teams of health and care professionals plan each patient’s care, using digital technology to help them meet.

This support ensures appropriate care can be given in the patient’s own home, avoiding unnecessary hospital admissions. It also means some patients who are in hospital can go home more quickly. Virtual wards also help to keep patients well in their homes for longer, delaying the need to go into hospital.

The multi-disciplinary teams (MDTs) bring together a wide range of healthcare professionals made up of GPs, hospital staff, therapists, nursing teams, pharmacists, social services and third sector (voluntary) colleagues.

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They can support patients with complex or multiple needs, who have a history of falls, frequent or recurrent hospital admissions, uncontrolled chronic conditions or health and social care needs.

Virtual wards are currently available in four primary care clusters across the health board; Bay Health and Cwmtawe in the Swansea area, and Neath and Upper Valleys in the Neath Port Talbot area. (Clusters are groups of GP practices and other primary care providers working together to offer wider services.)

Michelle Williams, from Pontardawe, and her family have experienced first-hand how the virtual ward can provide extra support at home.

Her father, Lynn Mainwaring, who has dementia, had been suffering falls in recent months and staff from the virtual ward were able to offer their help after he was referred by his GP practice.

“Our mother passed away in December so my sisters and I have been going over to look after our father,” Michelle, aged 52, said.

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“He’s been very unsteady on his feet and falling a lot. It’s become more noticeable since December as we’ve been going to look after him a lot more.

“He has been having lots of tests so we’ve been back and fore to the doctors lately.

“While we have been awaiting the results, we have had lots of staff from the virtual ward coming to the house.

“Nurses have come to check his blood pressure and medication, some of which has been changed in case that had been making him unsteady, and an occupational therapist who helped install handrails among other things.

“They are even planning on helping him get a walk-in shower installed at home.”
Recent family commitments have meant that Mr Mainwaring, aged 77, has been cared for at Ystradgynlais Community Hospital, following intervention from the Upper Valleys Cluster virtual ward to avoid him having to temporarily care for himself.

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Michelle added: “Our father has now been assigned a social worker and the staff are working to see what else can be done to help him.

“We have found the virtual ward to be very helpful and the staff have given us lots of information and told us what we can do to help our father going forward.”

Cheryl Griffiths, Upper Valleys Cluster virtual ward clinical manager, said: “From the initial referral, the virtual ward MDT were involved with the occupational therapist, pharmacist and nursing teams visiting to complete appropriate and timely assessments.

“With input from our virtual ward geriatrician, GP lead and representatives from the voluntary sector, we were able to provide wraparound support for the patient and family, easing their concerns.

“The co-ordination of the team and the support involved is essential and part of my role is to feed back and be a point of contact for the family should they have concerns.

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“I believe having that link and support at the end of the phone has made this experience a positive one and has improved the care for this patient.”

Neath Cluster introduced its virtual ward at the beginning of the pandemic, in May 2020, with the service since managing to prevent multiple hospital admissions.

Dr Deborah Burge-Jones, Neath Cluster lead and one of the virtual ward’s GPs, said: “It started off with just our GPs, district nurses, the community resource team, and palliative care staff and slowly we had more and more staff join us as it proved really beneficial to be able to have those multidisciplinary discussions.

“The health board invested heavily in virtual wards last year which enabled us to grow our dedicated team and service to ensure we have the resource needed to really impact patient care.

“We’ve managed to prevent quite a number of avoidable hospital admissions within the last two years.

“This is something we are really proud of as we can see the benefit to our patients.”
Not only do virtual wards care for people at home, they also help move them out of hospital sooner by arranging the most appropriate care for each individual.

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Staff can recommend some patients join the virtual ward so they can be closely monitored to help prevent accidents or a decline in health.

“It’s about prevention rather than just reaction when something goes wrong,” Dr Burge-Jones added.

“Actually getting that help in place before the situation reaches a crisis point can help stop things becoming worse, not only for the patient but for their family as well.

“We try to prevent people going into hospital and help them keep as healthy and well as we can at home.

“In terms of helping get people out of hospital, we consider what support we can offer to enable them to come out that little bit earlier and safely.”

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Jacqueline Breen, from Briton Ferry, is just one patient who has been supported by the virtual ward after recently coming out of hospital.

Mrs Breen, aged 80, had been in hospital for around three months with suspected sepsis and unfortunately suffered a stroke during that time.

After returning home with a package of care in place, her family found it increasingly difficult to care for her on their own.

Her daughter, Beverley Toms, said: “When she came out of hospital I thought ‘how am I going to cope?’ as she needed carers several times a day.

“My husband and I were looking after her and after a week we noticed just how hard it was.

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“I got in touch with Dr Burge-Jones who mentioned the virtual ward and asked if I would like to try it and I said yes.

“They sent a nurse out to come and assess my mother the next day. I was very pleased with the service.

“My mother has since been transferred to a care home.”

Dr Burge-Jones said: “Mrs Breen required further assessment and intervention in addition to the package of care already in place.

“By offering this targeted MDT input we can assess a patient’s holistic healthcare needs and help to provide the most appropriate management plan.”

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Samantha Roberts, Neath virtual ward clinical manager, added: “Mrs Breen’s daughter contacted her GP because she felt her mum was poorly and that she was struggling.

“An initial assessment was completed with Mrs Breen through the virtual ward and through conversations with the family, they highlighted that they felt it would be more beneficial and safer if their mum was offered a care home placement.

“Through the virtual ward platform, the nurse was able to correctly identify the most appropriate services for Mrs Breen. This resulted in Mrs Breen and her family being able to choose the most suitable placement for her, with the support from a social worker.

“This intervention avoided an admission to hospital which would likely have resulted in a lengthy stay.”

Following the success of the virtual ward roll-out within the current four clusters, plans are in place to expand the service to include the remaining Afan, City Health, Llwchwr and Penderi clusters in future.

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Lead image: Dr Burge-Jones (left) with some of the Neath Cluster virtual ward team (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Aberavon Beach wins 2022 Seaside Award

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Aberavon Beach has been named as one of country’s best beaches by environmental charity Keep Wales Tidy which has awarded it the prestigious Seaside Award for 2022.

The annual Seaside Awards play a vital role in protecting our precious marine environment and are recognised around the world as a symbol of quality and good beach management.

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From popular resorts to hidden gems, all award-winning beaches must meet and maintain the highest environmental and safety standards and achieve tough international bathing water quality targets.

Announcing the awards, Keep Wales Tidy’s Chief Executive Lesley Jones said: “We are lucky to have some of the world’s best beaches and marinas on our doorstep. The success is a testament to everyone who has worked so hard to protect and improve our beaches and keep our coast clean and safe.

“We hope that everyone visiting our stunning coastline will enjoy and cherish our beaches responsibly. Please make sure you make memories, not mess and take your litter home with you.”

A Neath Port Talbot Council spokesperson said: “We can once again proudly fly the Seaside Award flag which assures good standards of water quality, safety and cleanliness for visitors to Aberavon Beach.

“The popularity of Aberavon Beach and its promenade as a place to visit by both local people and visitors continues to grow year on year.”

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(Lead image: NPT Council)

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Coronavirus

New COVID vaccination centre opens at Aberavon Shopping Centre

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A new COVID vaccination centre for Port Talbot is opening at Aberavon Shopping Centre.

Situated next door to B&M, near the river bridge entrance, Swansea Bay Health Board say it will provide vaccinations to adults and children alike.

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The first clinic will be held at the Local Vaccination Centre (LVC) on Thursday, May 26th. Slots will be available by appointment only for the time being.

The health board are asking people not to telephone the shopping centre if they want to make an appointment or if they have a general query. The health board’s booking centre can be contacted on 01792 200492 or 01639 862323.

The opening comes as the health board winds down its vaccination operation at the Bay Field Hospital near Amazon, off Fabian Way, which has been open since the first Covid vaccine was rolled out to health and social care staff in December 2020.

The final Covid vaccination clinic will be held at the Bay Mass Vaccination Centre on Wednesday, June 1st.

Blood tests will continue on that site for the time being.

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Covid vaccination clinics will also continue to be scheduled at Canolfan Gorseinon Centre, in the health board’s container in the car park of Morrisons supermarket on Baglan Industrial Park and on the Immbulance mobile vaccination clinic, which stops at various venues across the Swansea Bay area.

Interim Head of Transformation, James Ruggiero, said the move to the shopping centre signals a wider change in the Covid vaccination programme.

“The Bay has been absolutely brilliant for us but thankfully, we no longer need a permanent venue of that size.

“While no one can predict exactly what will happen in the future, we do know that some people, particularly those who are vulnerable, will need Covid boosters to help maintain a level of protection against the coronavirus, which is still out there.

“This new venue is perfect for that and a bonus is that being smaller and less intimidating, it can also be used to host clinics for children aged five to 11.”

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Vaccination staff Owain Williams, Samantha Minards, Rebecca Maus, Mathew Davies and Geraint Hammond, inside the new vaccination centre at Aberafan Shopping Centre (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Mr Ruggiero added: “Our teams have worked hard to set up this new convenient unit and to make it as comfortable and efficient as possible.

“We hope the public welcome it and enjoy popping to the other shops to pick up a bargain once they’ve come in for their vaccination.”

The Aberafan Shopping Centre LVC will be open between 9.30am and 4.30pm. Vaccinations are on an appointment-only basis for now.

The first vaccinations will be for the spring booster which, in line with JCVI guidance, is being given to those aged 75 and over, older care home residents and those aged 12 and over who are immunosuppressed.

The health board will shortly be announcing clinic dates for those aged five to 11 in June.

A Covid booster programme is due to run in the autumn, with interim JCVI advice saying that Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults; Frontline health and social care workers; All those 65 years of age and over; and adults aged 16 to 65 years in a clinical risk group should each receive one dose.

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(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Swansea Bay NHS

Water babies make a splash at hospital hydro pools

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Opening up the hydrotherapy pool at Neath Port Talbot Hospital has led to lifesaving skills being taught in dedicated swimming classes to help safeguard babies and toddlers from drowning, Swansea Bay University Health Board have said.

The health board say changes in the way their hydrotherapy pools are managed mean that when they are not being used for clinical sessions with patients, they can now be offered for community use out of hours.

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Water Babies, a group who deliver swimming programmes to pre-school aged children, is now using the pool at Neath Port Talbot Hospital. 

The sessions in the hydrotherapy pool are fun but have an extremely serious benefit.

In the UK, drowning is the third highest cause of accidental death among babies and children. 

In most cases, the shock of sudden submersion causes children to panic, but introducing infants to water from very early on can make a real difference. 

By the age of two, toddlers can be taught to fall in, surface, swim to the side and hold on.

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An affordable hire fee from the health board and a grant from Neath Port Talbot council has already helped the group teach lifesaving skills to over 100 babies and parents. They hope to double that amount by the end of May.

“We’re delighted to be able to hold our classes at Neath Port Talbot Hospital’s hydrotherapy pool – it’s an excellent facility,” said Aletia Griffiths, director of Water Babies, who also hold classes at Singleton Hospital’s hydrotherapy pool. 

“In the last few years, at least 10 tiny Water Babies pupils in the UK have saved their own lives, five of whom were just two years old at the time.

“It’s fantastic what vital skills children can learn, and it’s so important that they do so as soon as possible.

“As well as water safety skills and enjoying the water, another key focus is to help strengthen the bond between carer and child.” 

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Water Babies runs a pre-school swimming programs at Neath Port Talbot Hospital’s pool (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

 Water Babies are among the groups who have hired the facility following changes made to the way hydrotherapy pools are run within the health board. 

The health board’s engagement programme Changing for the Future proposed a series of changes to the way urgent and planned care services are delivered following Covid. 

Following public consultation, Neath Port Talbot hospital will become a centre of excellence for rehabilitation. 

The hydrotherapy pool at the hospital, along with another at Singleton Hospital, are now the focus for hydrotherapy resources and sessions for Swansea Bay patients. The older pool at Morriston Hospital has since closed. 

The pools at Neath Port Talbot and Singleton have already seen an increase in numbers benefiting from them, with a wide range of people from babies to elderly patients using the pools to manage debilitating short and long-term conditions. 

Daniel Clarke, Musculoskeletal physio assistant; physiotherapists Holly Speare and Kristen Bucknall along with Jordanna Roberts, physio clinical lead (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

The health board hopes to encourage more community groups and voluntary sector organisations to hire the pool in Neath Port Talbot outside of NHS operational hours to aid their health and wellbeing. 

Jordanna Roberts, physio clinical lead across Neath Port Talbot and Singleton hospitals, highlighted further advantages from the group’s use of the pool, along with general benefits.

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She said: “There is a social element which has been missing for many during Covid, so the lessons are a chance for mums to network and build up supportive parenting relationships. 

“Physically any exercise and movement has a multitude of health benefits, including improving mood, sleep, physical strength and mobility, alongside preventing against chronic health conditions. 

“The warm and buoyant water within the pool reduces joint load and can make stretching and movement more effective and comfortable. 

“Following the success of the Water Babies class, we are keen to work with other partners to increase overall population access. 

“We’d be keen to hear from any groups interested in hiring out the pool pools at both Neath Port Talbot and Singleton.” 

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To hire the hydrotherapy pools at Neath Port Talbot Hospital and Singleton Hospital, contact 01792 285383 or email Jordanna.Roberts@wales.nhs.uk

(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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