The Rheumatology department at Stockport NHS Foundation trust have introduced a pioneering new ultrasound clinic to improve the standard and quality of care for patients with symptoms of inflammatory arthritis.
The Early Inflammatory Arthritis (EIA) ultrasound clinic is a consultant led service based at Stepping Hill Hospital which is, to date, the only one of its kind in the Greater Manchester and Lancashire areas, and uses the latest and most advanced technology available.
The clinic consultants are trained to provide an ultrasound examination of the musculo-skeletal system, at the point of care, in addition to their usual clinical assessment. This helps to provide an accurate and rapid diagnosis, and enables treatment to be started earlier.
Ultrasound is a highly accurate technique allows a detailed evaluation to be made of the joints and tendons that are commonly affected in inflammatory arthritis. This should avoid the need for multiple appointments, which could previously include a long waiting time in radiology before a diagnosis could be made, and treatment being started. This will result in a better overall patient experience and lead to immediate symptom relief, and a reduction in the long term chronic deformities and immobility that can develop with the condition.
The service, which started in November 2019, involves a review of patients suspected to have inflammatory arthritis within three weeks of referral by the GP. The patient receives a consultation and ultrasound assessment, as well as blood tests and X-rays if needed, all on the same day, without the need for multiple appointments.
The consultants leading the service are Qasim Akram, Louise Mercer and Charlotte Filer. Dr Akram said “We are delighted to be able to offer such a cutting edge and world class service to our rheumatology patients here in Stockport.”
“Seeing patients in the ‘one stop shop clinic’ will massively improve the speed of diagnosis and mean that if treatment is required it can be started immediately.”
“Patients with symptoms of inflammatory arthritis can be significantly impaired by the condition, with pain and fatigue that can hinder normal day to day activities. They often have to wait several weeks before a diagnosis is made and treatment is started which may have a huge impact on their personal and professional lives. We are also now beginning to see positive outcomes of immediate treatment for these chronic conditions.”
“Learning to perform ultrasound is not the norm for rheumatologists and is challenging and often takes years to develop. However, we felt that learning this skill would improve our diagnostic skills as rheumatologists and as a result provide a dynamic and efficient rheumatology service, benefiting our patients and the trust’.
One patient, Mr William Evans from Bredbury was recently seen in the clinic. He said “What a wonderful service. I cannot believe I was seen so quickly and given a diagnosis there and then. We thought we would have to wait months. We don’t like coming for lots of appointments.’
Another patient, Debbie Miller from Handforth echoed these sentiments and felt that the service was “very impressive service” after being seeing in the EIA clinic.
The service is expected to benefit over 480 patients a year. The team plan to extend the ‘one stop’ ultrasound clinic model to other areas of rheumatology including Giant Cell Arteritis and Large Vessel Vasculitis.