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Neath Port Talbot

Audiology service transformation means quicker specialist access for patients

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A major transformation of Swansea Bay’s primary care audiology services will deliver quicker specialist access for patients all across Swansea and Neath Port Talbot, and help free up GP time.

Following successful trials, patients with hearing problems, tinnitus or problematic wax can now phone their surgery’s telephone triage system and book directly to see one of the Primary Care Audiology teams at designated clinics.

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It replaces the previous system which included a surgery appointment with a GP or practice nurse, who would then refer the patient to the audiology team.

Not only will this new approach prove a quicker, more efficient method, it will also free up doctors’ time to see other patients.

The service will be hosted in seven sites – Neath Hub (Dyfed Road, Neath); Port Talbot Resource Centre (Baglan); Beacon Centre for Health (SA1, Swansea); Cwmfelin Surgery (Carmarthen Road, Swansea); Penclawdd Health Centre; Clydach Primary Care Centre; Norton Health Centre in Mumbles.

Head of Audiology, Sarah Theobald (pictured), said: “This is a really positive change in terms of the care and treatment patients will receive in audiology across our health board. It’s a major transformation which means patients will see the right person in the right place at the right time.

“It’s a model that’s not being used elsewhere in the UK, so Wales is leading the way with this model which has won a number of awards.

“This service provides us with the opportunity to provide specialist advice and management to patients as soon as possible.

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“It means quicker access to specialists while for GPs it will free up primary care capacity, which is very important.

“While a GP might be unsure if the patient should be directed to ENT (Ears, Nose and Throat) or audiology, the audiologist is be able to carry out detailed assessments and make the appropriate referral.

“We have soundproof booths in the new clinics, as well as wax removal kit, audiometers, tympanometers, which measure the pressure in the middle ear, and video otoscopes which takes videos of the middle ear that we can send to ENT if necessary.

“It also saves time for the patient. Previously, if they had been referred to ENT but actually needed a hearing aid, they might have had to wait six months to see a consultant before being referred to audiology. Now patients who need hearing aids are more likely to be referred to audiology straight away and receive their hearing aids within fourteen weeks.

“It also benefits patients who need to see both ENT and audiology because they will have parallel referrals. It means they will get what they need from audiology while waiting for a surgical opinion from ENT at the same time.”

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The development of the new service has been made possible thanks to joint permanent funding from the health board and Local Cluster Collaboratives.

Deborah Burge-Jones, Neath Cluster Lead, said: “It is an amazing service that allows patients to have fast access to audiology and wax removal without having to wait for an assessment by the GP and then referral in to secondary care with the associated long wait.

“The service can then link in with ENT and refer patients to them or for MRI scans, if required, which again speeds things up for patients.

“The feedback we’ve received from patients is generally excellent too.

“We really value the service and thanks to clear referral guidelines patients can be assured that being triaged is generally appropriate. If it isn’t they will refer back to us if needed.

“This service significantly improves audiology care, reduces wait times for patients and enables prudent working, ensuring patients see the most appropriate clinician for their issue.”

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The service is in line with the Welsh Government’s vision for transforming primary care across Wales, and the emphasis on providing a range of quality health and social care services in the community.

It will also offer advice and direct patients to information that will help them make decisions on their hearing care and manage the effects of their hearing loss and tinnitus.

Nicola Phillips, the principal clinical scientist who leads the primary care audiology service, said: “Good hearing care is vital to maintaining communication with our families, friends, colleagues and carers.

“Early intervention in understanding a patients hearing loss and tinnitus also plays an important role in the management of conditions such as dementia and mental health difficulties.

“Also, while for the majority of individuals wax build up can be avoided and managed at home, wax which builds up to block the ear canal can have a significant impact on communication and prevent hearing aid users from wearing their hearing aids.

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“This service provides us with the opportunity to provide specialist advice and management to patients as soon as possible and will refer them to the appropriate supporting services if necessary.”

(All images: Swansea Bay NHS)

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