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Audiology expansion allows more specialist access for patients

Georgia examining someone

The recently transformed primary care audiology service has expanded to offer more specialist access to patients.

Last year, a major transformation took place allowing the service to provide quicker access for patients with hearing, tinnitus or wax issues.

It saw the introduction of designated clinics throughout Swansea Bay, with patients able to phone their GP practice’s triage system and make an appointment to see one of the primary care audiology teams.

It replaced the previous system which required an appointment at the practice with a GP or practice nurse, who would then make a referral to the audiology team.

Pictured: Audiologist Georgia Jones at the Neath Hub.

The new approach has already proved to be more efficient for patients, while also helping to free up time for GPs to see other patients.

The service covers everything from a simple hearing test to assessing a sudden onset of hearing loss, which is classed as a medical emergency.

Nicola and Georgia stood next to a desk

Patients requiring an assessment or advice for hearing or tinnitus concerns or who have problematic wax can book into the clinic by contacting their GP surgery.

It is 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 and Norton Health Centre in Mumbles.

Now, the service has reached its final phase of expansion and the team has undergone further training in wax removal techniques.

Patients are now able to have their wax removed using an ear irrigator, where water is gently released into the ear. The intensity and temperature of the water is controlled by the device, unlike syringing which was manually controlled.

Pictured: Principal audiologist Nicola Phillips and audiologist Georgia Jones.

Staff can also use a small manual device used to remove a specific consistency of wax.

The two new techniques are being used alongside micro-suction and the regular manual wax removal tools. The audiologists are specially trained to decide which device or tool will best suit the patient’s needs.

Nicola Phillips, principal audiologist who leads the primary care audiology service, said: “There has also been development in the training of removing wax from more complex cases.

“This means patients who have undergone any surgery on their ears or have abnormalities with their ear which makes wax removal more challenging, can be seen in the complex wax removal clinic.

“This clinic is led by an advanced audiology practitioner, specially trained in the wax removal of complex ears.”

There are also a number of steps people can take to self-manage their ear wax, such as by using olive oil drops or spray to help soften it.

A leaflet produced by Welsh Government has been tailored to include advice relevant to the health board thanks to funding from Swansea Bay’s Local Cluster Collaboratives.

Image shows a woman standing in a park

It includes advice around self-management, as well as details about making an appointment with the first-contact primary care audiology service.

The leaflet will be available to the public in GP practices and pharmacies, with an electronic version also available on the health board website.

“Promoting self-management is really important so it can hopefully prevent hearing issues,” Nicola added.

“But if patients do need to access the service, they will know what they can do to help us before their appointment.

“For instance, for ear wax removal we recommend using an olive oil spray before the appointment to help soften it.

“We don’t want people to use a cotton bud or any other objects as they can cause damage to their ear.”

Pictured: Swansea Bay's head of audiology, Sarah Theobald.

The service has also recently introduced a new urgent appointment pathway for those who experience sudden sensorineural (inner ear) hearing loss, which is an unexplained, rapid loss of hearing.

It can either happen all at once or over a few days and is classed as a medical emergency.

Nicola said: “It is classed as an emergency because in some cases the hearing loss can be partly or completely restored, if treated quickly.

“People can sometimes assume that their hearing will come back in a few days but when it doesn’t and they contact their GP surgery, it can be too late.

“We encourage patients who experience a sudden change in their hearing to contact their GP surgery as soon as possible.”

Sarah Theobald, the health board’s head of audiology, said: “The primary care audiology service was set up as a pilot project in 2016.

“It has since been developed across all of the clusters within Swansea Bay and has won many awards.

“It leads the way in audiology service redesign, moving an historical secondary care service into primary care meaning patients can access audiology management and treatment easily within their own communities.”

Follow this link to the guide for patients on the self-management of ear wax on the Welsh Government website.

Rydym yn croesawu gohebiaeth a galwadau ffôn yn y Gymraeg neu'r Saesneg. Atebir gohebiaeth Gymraeg yn y Gymraeg, ac ni fydd hyn yn arwain at oedi. Mae’r dudalen hon ar gael yn Gymraeg drwy bwyso’r botwm ar y dde ar frig y dudalen.

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