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A microscope that can be used for both ear and dental procedures means patients can now be treated quickly without the need for a hospital referral.
The specialist piece of equipment is being used at a weekly ear care clinic which treats patients for ear wax removal, infections and ear drum perforations, among other issues.
It has been introduced by the City Health Cluster, which consists of eight GP practices in the south-east and central areas of Swansea, to prevent hospital referrals for patients experiencing ear-related issues.
The microscope, which provides a deeper view into the ear, was bought to address a lack of ear care treatment available to patients.
However, it can also be used by dentists in Willows Dental Practice in the city centre – where the microscope is located and the ear care clinics are held - for endodontic procedures, such as root canals.
Dr William Metcalfe, the GP who runs the ear care clinic, said: “All GP practices have been advised by the government and British Medical Association to stop ear syringing as it can cause damage to ears.
“That, coupled with the Covid pressures with hospital waiting lists growing, meant patients with non-acute ear problems were waiting a long time to have anything done about it.
“I have done a lot of ear, nose and throat training in the past but I just didn’t have the facilities to use it.
“The cluster decided to fund a microscope and the equipment that goes with it so we could offer an ear care service to all our patients.
“Dentists based within the cluster can also make use of the microscope for endodontic work, such as root canals.”
Patients registered with any of the eight practices – Brunswick Health Centre, Greenhill Medical Centre, Abertawe Medical Partnership, Kingsway Surgery, Mountain View Health Centre, Nicholl Street Medical Centre, SA1 Medical Centre and The Harbourside Health Centre – can be referred into the clinic.
Patients registered with Willows Dental Practice can also receive treatment that involves the use of the microscope.
Pictured: Dr Metcalfe demonstrates the microscope.
“All of the GP practices get equal access to the service,” Dr Metcalfe said.
“Patients will see either their GP or practice nurse about an ear issue and they will be examined initially. If they see something which they think could be dealt with in the clinic, they will refer them in.
“I use a speculum – which is a little plastic funnel that goes into the ear – and I can see into that with the microscope and the light, which allows me to work inside the ear.
“I see patients with either acute or chronic ear infections, foreign bodies that have got into the ears somehow, perforations in ear drums and issues such as nosebleeds.
“The most common issue is ear wax that people can’t get rid of. Some patients have either been referred by their GP or some have gone for hearing tests and been referred.”
One patient who has benefited from being able to access ear care treatment is Royston Morris, from Swansea.
The 79-year-old had been suffering with ear wax issues that previously would have been syringed by a GP but instead he was able to have it removed thanks to the new microscope at the clinic.
He said: “I was referred from my GP at the Kingsway Surgery as I had a build-up of wax in my right ear that I couldn’t get rid of.
“I went to the Willows Dental Practice and they used a suction device and cleaned my ears out and gave me ear drops to use at home.
“It was an outstanding service and I found it very helpful.
“I think it’s a much-needed service for patients as the ear syringing isn’t available anymore.
“The service they offer in the clinic is great and I would give it a 10 out of 10 if I could.”
Around 250 patients have been treated in the clinic since its launch in October.
Additional clinics have even been arranged in recent months to meet high demand.
Dr Metcalfe added: “Initially we didn’t know how much demand there was going to be so we set it up to do a half day each week to see how that would go.
“It filled up pretty quickly and within the first month we were already booking a month in advance.
“In one month alone I did three extra clinics when I was able to so I could see more people to try and keep the waiting lists shorter.
“The service isn’t otherwise available so there has been a demand for it.”
City Health Cluster lead, Dr Ceri Todd, said: “This project is a great example of cluster members co-operating and sharing resources with the aim to provide better outcomes for patients.
“The project has been especially well received by patients who would otherwise either have to pay for the service or remain on long waiting lists before treatment.
“We are looking forward to reading the patient feedback currently being collected by the service.”