GWENT’S pioneering Sleep Centre has a new home, a new name, and new challenges, as referrals for sleep disorders continue to rise.

It was alone in Wales when established at Newport’s St Woolos Hospital more than ten years ago.

Now it is one of four units offering a full range of tests for disorders such as sleep apnoea, a condition which in recent years has been linked to other health problems like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

The new base on respiratory ward C6 East at the Royal Gwent Hospital is more spacious than that originally established by sleep disorder specialist Dr Melissa Hack at St Woolos.

It is called the Paterson Unit, in memory of Roger Paterson, who was founder secretary of the Welsh Sleep Apnoea Society patient’s group.

“The society has given us tremendous support over the years, and so has Aneurin Bevan Health Board,” said Dr Hack, based at the unit with sleep nurse specialist Jeanette Richards.

“We’ve come a long way with the service we can offer and in a wider context with understanding how sleep disorders link with other health problems.

“It isn’t just about the medical profession, because people are becoming more aware of the effect disrupted sleep can have.

“That also extends to employers. We have people referred as a result of their employer’s concerns, and the referral rate is rising generally as GPs become more tuned in to sleep disorders.”

The unit has a dedicated room and bed where patients’ sleep patterns can be monitored overnight.

Demand means it is in use seven nights a week.

“We can investigate at all levels from full polysomnography (which includes measuring eye movements, brain activity, heart rhythm and breathing during sleep),” said Dr Hack.

“We have developed a home monitoring system which means that with the pressure for beds we can select patients who can be best studied at home.

“We do 12 home studies a week. Patients collect the equipment and instructions for using it, then bring it back in. It can overcome problems of being in a different sleeping environment, and we often get better quality recordings. We also contribute to research projects.”