WAITING times are being cut for rheumatology patients who are also benefitting from greatly reduced journeys to and from hospital.

Around 200 Gwent patients who were previously treated in Bath and Cardiff, are now being treated locally, and are being linked up to other specialities provided in local hospitals for complications involving heart, lung and eye problems.

And in most cases waiting times of around 42 weeks have fallen to 12-16 weeks, the shortest in Wales.

Rheumatology involves the investigation, diagnosis and treatment of patients with arthritis and other musculo-skeletal pro-blems, that can affect joints, bones, muscles and soft tissues.

Often very debilitating, these conditions can severely limit mobility and can also affect, or trigger problems in other parts of the body.

“The move has been hugely beneficial for everyone, with repatriation enabling easy access to high quality effective care,” said lead rheumatology consultant Dr Syed Ayas.

“We have also been able to ensure services are appropriately clinically linked, improve quality and effectiveness, and reduce unnecessary duplication and fragmentation of services.

“We have increased our number of consultants to six, and have also been able to develop and enhance the service provided by our specialist nurses, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists.

“As patients are not treated out of the area, we are now able to ensure local and national guidelines are adhered to, and we can audit every stage of the patient journey. This gives us high quality information to make further improvements.”

Staffing levels have been increased and training enhanced, and the repatriation of patients into Gwent has also enabled Aneurin Bevan University Health Board to invest in equipment such as Dexa scanners to measure bone density.

This, along with the setting up of a fracture liaison service, is enabling staff to be more proactive in the early detection of problems such as osteoporosis.