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New direct access service for patients in North Down and Ards


The South Eastern Local Commissioning Group (LCG) has recently invested in a direct access referral system for GPs in the North Down and Ards area.

GPs in North Down and Ards can now arrange for patients to be immediately referred to the DEXA scanning service at Bangor Hospital, which determines bone strength and primarily assists in the identification and management of osteoporosis.

The direct referral service will help patients receive a faster diagnosis and also reduce the need to send people to an Emergency Department for an urgent X-ray.

The results help GPs to provide patients with appropriate bone protection treatment with the aim of preventing more serious fractures.

Welcoming the development, Dr Michael Steele, Chair of the South Eastern LCG Prescribing Committee, said:

“Direct access to DEXA scanning will provide an enhanced service to patients in the North Down and Ards communities and support GPs in providing more local services. It will also release consultant time for direct patient care in rheumatology, thereby reducing waiting times for diagnosis and outpatient appointments. At present approximately 600 patients are receiving DEXA scanning at Bangor Hospital. It is expected that 90% of current referrals made through the Ulster Hospital Rheumatologists will become direct referrals to the DEXA service.”

The service will be piloted until March 2015 and, pending a successful evaluation, it is intended that the service will be rolled out within the South Eastern area.

This is the latest in a series of initiatives by South Eastern LCG to improve patient access to services. Since November 2013, GPs have had direct access to a rapid reporting x-ray service throughout the South Eastern locality so that patients can be referred directly to x-ray diagnostics rather than visiting an Emergency Department. GPs at Bangor Health Centre are also able to make direct referrals to ultrasound radiology services which can detect Deep Vein Thrombosis.

DEXA is an abbreviation for ‘dual energy X-ray absorptiometry’. A DEXA scanner is similar to an X-ray scanner and it measures the density of bones to determine a patient’s bone strength. Low density and weak bones may be an indication of osteoporosis particularly in women and weak bones are more susceptible to fractures.