People with hearing difficulties across North Wales will find it easier to access specialist support in their GP surgery, thanks to investment in a new NHS service.
Over the next three years, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board will introduce Advanced Audiology Practitioners into GP surgeries across the region.
Their introduction will ensure that more people with hearing, tinnitus and balance difficulties can receive specialist care sooner and closer to home, while releasing up to 22,000 GP appointments every year.
Hearing difficulties are thought to affect around 130,000 people in North Wales, including seven in ten people over the age of 70.
Advanced Practice Audiologists (APAs) are currently in place in 36 GP Practices across North Wales, supporting around 25 per cent of the region’s population.
As part of a staged approach, APAs will be introduced to remaining practices over the next three years.
Once established, APAs will also oversee the delivery of an earwax removal service, supporting the four per cent of the population who suffer from problematic earwax.
Over the past three years, more than 35,000 people have benefited from the APA service in GP practices in which it has been piloted.
The service model has received national recognition, winning an NHS Wales ‘Developing a Sustainable Workforce Award’ and being shortlisted for a UK Advancing Healthcare Award under the ‘Innovation in Healthcare’ category.
Clarence House Medical Centre in Rhyl is one of 36 GP Practices in North Wales that have already benefitted from the introduction of Advanced Practice Audiologists.
Dr Simon Dobson, a GP at Clarence House Medical Centre, said: “The introduction of Advanced Practice Audiologists has made it easier for people with hearing difficulties to access the specialist support they need, while freeing up our GP’s time to see other cases. I’m very pleased that this service, which is much valued by patients and staff, is set to be introduced across North Wales.”
Jane Wild, Consultant Clinical Scientist and Head of Adult Audiology at BCUHB, said:
“We know that left unmanaged, hearing, tinnitus and balance difficulties can have a significant impact on people’s quality of life. By enabling people to be seen close to home by an Advanced Practice Audiologist in the first instance, we can ensure they receive the specialist care they need sooner, while freeing up GP appointments.
“This service is being extended as part of a staged process, over the next three years. We ask people to be patient as it will take time to recruit, train and introduce the service to practices across the region.”