New ultrasound machines support 300% increase in patient throughput at NHS Nightingale Hospital Exeter

Equipped with Aplio i800 / Prism Edition ultrasound machines, the Devon hospital – a COVID-19 response unit turned community diagnostics hub – has helped reduce the local NHS patient waiting list from six weeks to less than two weeks

To ease the pressure on acute care, Professor Sir Mike Richards published a report in November 2020 calling for community diagnostic centres (CDCs) to be made available across England. Utilising a share of £11.3 million funding awarded by the National Accelerator Systems Programme (ASP) in May 2021, the NHS Nightingale Hospital Exeter was transformed into a diagnostic community hub, or CDC, to help tackle the backlog across the Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. An extensive, clinically led redesign programme turned the hospital into the state-of-the-art facility it is today, offering a range of orthopaedic, ophthalmology, diagnostic and rheumatology services to the local community.

The transformation of the hospital included much-needed investment in the latest medical imaging and diagnostics technology. The ultrasound service department went from just one ultrasound room equipped with an existing scanner, to four outpatient scanning suites – three for general ultrasound and one combined for musculoskeletal (MSK) – each installed with the latest state-of-the-art ultrasound imaging equipment from Canon Medical Systems UK.

The fleet of Aplio i800 Prism Edition machines provide a high level of detail for precision scanning in general, and particularly for gynaecological and MSK examinations. The Canon Medical equipment is installed with advanced applications including contrast enhanced ultrasound, shear wave elastography and Superb Micro-vascular Imaging (SMI) to enhance image quality. SMI’s level of vascular visualisation, advances diagnostic confidence when evaluating lesions, cysts and tumours, improving patient outcomes and experience.

Jane Baker, Principal Sonographer at the NHS Nightingale Hospital Exeter, comments; “Our long-standing relationship with Canon Medical Systems UK has enabled the hospital to implement a framework for continuous improvement through which the ultrasound team can effectively identify where efficiencies can be made for better patient care and staff working practices. We have already seen improved productivity, with faster examinations and more accurate diagnoses due to superb image quality. Patient feedback has also been positive with the speed of referral from the GP to an appointment being recognised by patients as ‘quick’ and ‘efficient’.”

Since the latest installation, the capacity of the ultrasound department at the NHS Nightingale Hospital has grown and has been able to serve three times as many patients this year compared to last year – 1,138 patients in August 2023 compared to 379 in August 2022 – reducing the local NHS patient waiting list down to less than two weeks. The success of the NHS Nightingale Hospital Exeter is helping support peaks in demand for diagnostic imaging and is creating the opportunity to address patient backlogs in other areas of the South West, including at its partner site in North Devon.

Jane Baker adds, “With improved image quality, diagnostic confidence has increased greatly across the sonography team, leading to more efficient diagnoses and improved patient throughput. The technological and ergonomic design features have proven essential in providing a service that offers optimum diagnostic quality and supports the ultrasound team in a busy out-patient setting."

In addition to easing pressure on acute care settings, CDCs based in the heart of communities like NHS Nightingale Hospital Exeter, helps reduce health inequalities by ensuring that everyone in the UK has the same access to care. CDCs also contribute towards the NHS’s net zero ambitions by reducing the commute for patients, and even staff, who can now receive diagnostic tests closer to home. The NHS Nightingale Hospital Exeter’s role as a CDC has made a significant impact on the local community, by providing quicker, more convenient access to healthcare for patients, and reducing pressure on patient waiting lists within the NHS Trust.


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