STATE-of-the-art medical equipment is set to transform the experience of many people in Wigtownshire – sparing them lengthy trips to Dumfries.
NHS Dumfries and Galloway are undertaking a service review to reduce travel for the west of the region, enabling patients to be seen nearer to their homes, with the first phase resulting in the purchase of an ophthalmology scanner which went online at Galloway Community Hospital in Stranraer last week.
Miss Susanna Boytha is a Consultant Ophthalmologist who helps provide weekly clinics in Stranraer, Lead Medical Retina Consultant and Lead Clinician for Diabetic Retinopathy Screening, and she said: “This new equipment is set to help transform approaches to caring for people with eye conditions in Wigtownshire.
“Until now, up to 75 per cent of patients have been faced with making trips to Dumfries as we didn’t have the equipment or skills on site to be able to provide those eye examinations in Stranraer.
“Now, however, we are going to start providing that service to suitable patients within Galloway Community Hospital – with the aim of reducing the need to travel.”
The new Ocular Coherence Tomography or ‘OCT’ scanner has been purchased at a cost of £76,000 thanks to funding from The Scottish Government.
Training has been taking place with nursing staff since April last year to help operate the equipment.
Over an initial six month period the scanner will assist in treating and monitoring people with macula conditions – initially sparing nearly an additional 200 people several journeys to Dumfries during the year.
As staff training continues, services are set to be expanded further in July to include patients with glaucoma.
Ophthalmology accounts for sizeable 10 per cent of all out patient clinic appointments in the region, and Miss Boytha said: “We are talking about big numbers, and often these patients need to come for checks every three to six months, or sometimes even every month.”
Explaining how the new technology works, she added: “The OCT is effectively a CT scanner for the eye, building up a three-dimensional image of the retina and deeper layers of the eye. This scanner is also notable for the fact that its produces a static two-colour photograph of the back of the eye.
“Myself and fellow consultants will continue to deliver a weekly clinic in Stranraer on a Tuesday, where with the help of the OCT scanner we will be able to see a wider range of patients.
“However, this technology means that staff in Stranraer can also undertake additional clinics, initially on a Friday.
“The scans and measurements of those clinics will be reviewed by myself in Dumfries in a ‘virtual clinic’.
“We’ve also set up video conferencing to link in on a Friday afternoon for those patients who wish to discuss with me any topics face-to-face.
“Meanwhile, this new OCT scanner will also be used within the diabetic retinopathy screening clinic which is running on a Thursday in Galloway Community Hospital.
“There will be a few conditions where patients will still ultimately need to go to Dumfries, but we hope that before too long the vast majority of patients can be seen here at Galloway Community Hospital. Those who would prefer to go to Dumfries will still have that option.”
Patients themselves are already beginning to experience the benefit of the new OCT scanner.
Mr Robert Hill, 70, had been required to make the regular journey to Dumfries for the past couple of years.
But he said: “The fact that I may not now have to spend the whole day with my wife driving me to Dumfries for an eye appointment that maybe just takes 10 minutes is a huge improvement, and long overdue.”
Mr Hill added: “It’s the sort of investment that will make sure that Galloway Community Hospital as a whole will benefit the community on an ongoing basis.
“In this part of the world we are going to see more and more elderly people suffering from those long-term eye conditions which will benefit from this local OCT scanner.”
Natalie Adams is Nursing Services Manager at Galloway Community Hospital, and has welcomed the introduction of the new scanner.
She said: “The people of Wigtownshire requested this service. When the Board went out to get views, this was one of the overwhelming requests.
“We listened, put the training in, got the equipment, and are now able to deliver the service as requested.
“But this is just the latest investment in Galloway Community Hospital, following the introduction of a new Central Water Plant in February last year at a cost of £100,000 supporting the hospital’s dialysis services, and our new CT scanner which had just been installed at a cost of £500,000.
“Ultimately, all of this is to benefit the patients of our local community.
“We’re absolutely delighted.”