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Staff shortages leave long waits for echo

Underfunding of echo services and a massive shortage of staff are causing unnecessary delays in crucial scanning tests, a worrying new survey reveals.

Waiting times for patients could be 'very quickly relieved' if GPs were trained to perform more complicated echocardiography stress studies in the community, the doctor behind the survey told Pulse.Three-quarters of patients are waiting more than a month for stress studies and more cardiologists, sonographers and imaging consultants are required, the survey found.Study leader Dr John Chambers, consultant cardiologist at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals in London, said: 'We need more doctors to specialise in cardiac imaging to do clinical supervision in the community. 'We could relieve waiting times very quickly with more trained sonographers and demand could be accommodated in the community. It is an opportunity for GPs.'Dr Chambers, a member of the British Society of Echocardiography, added: 'There is already a recommendation from the British Cardiac Society saying all trusts should have a specialist. 'Now we need the missing link, which is the Government, to make it mandatory. We would like to employ every means possible to twist the Government's arm.'The current programme, despite recent investment and new echocardiography machines, is still not adequate, according to Dr Chambers's study, published in the April issue of the British Journal of Cardiology. Questionnaires were sent to all private and NHS hospitals in the UK and 217 were returned – 196 from NHS hospitals. Routine requests took more than a month to process in 62% of echo centres, and even inpatients could wait for an exam for more than a week in 18% of centres.In total, 74% of outpatients waited for more than a month for stress studies and 39% waited for more than a month for transoesophageal studies, the report found. One GP already involved in echo work urged colleagues to get involved. Dr Gerald Partridge, a GP in Keighley, West Yorkshire, has run a community clinic for six years.Local GPs refer patients to Dr Partridge for echocardiography and, as he has the kit in the surgery, he can conduct exams quickly if necessary.He said: 'I find it fascinating and fulfilling. I would like to see a lot more GPs doing it because it is in such demand. 'Looking at our waiting list, there's no shortage of customers. We have to work hard to keep waiting times within boundaries.'

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