A pioneering mobile heart scanning clinic that’s the first of its kind in the UK is helping to cut waiting times for patients in rural parts of Gwynedd and Anglesey.

The clinic was set up by Dr Graham Thomas, a GP specialising in heart problems and is staffed by specialist nurses and cardiac physiologists using state of the art portable machinery.

Run by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, the initiative sees patients with potentially life-threatening heart problems in rural areas given access to assessment, diagnosis and treatment close to home, rather than travel to Bangor.

The one-stop clinics are set up in community hospitals, GP surgeries or even the homes of housebound patients.

Heart failure nurse specialist Viki Jenkins is one of the first to have worked on the scheme, which has now been rolled out to other parts of rural North Wales and a similar model taken up by other health boards.

Viki and her colleagues see people with a variety of heart problems or those at risk of developing them.

She said: “We use echo (ultrasound) scanning to diagnose patients for the first time or to carry out regular check-ups of those that have suffered with cardiac problems in the past.

“Our advanced training means that instead of having to refer scans back to consultants, we will interpret them and can give results there and then, as well as initiate the next course of action, where necessary.

“At some clinics, we use our expertise to carry out pre-op assessments to check on the heart function of patients who are due to undergo surgery and anaesthetic. This saves the patient from going to hospital first for this assessment and then a second time for the operation.”

One of the patients that have welcomed the mobile heart unit is 79-year-old Molly Evans who had her routine pre-operative scans done by Viki and the team at Ysbyty Alltwen in Tremadog.

The widowed mother-of-one has lived in Dolgellau all her life so was delighted to be seen locally.

She said: “It beats having to go off in to the hospital at Bangor. This is the first time I’ve used the service but it’s a really professional set up, which should make such a difference for a lot of people.

“They are all so nice and friendly too and that always goes a long way.”

Viki added: “Not only was Mrs Evans able to be seen near home, she got her results back at the same time, as we have the advanced clinical skills to look at the scans here.”

Viki said: “I am now undergoing extra training so that I will be able to start off with the patient and see them from investigation, through diagnosis and then treatment.

“I am the only nurse to be doing this in the UK, and possibly even internationally, and being able to offer those extra skills should cut out a number of the current processes.

“I am currently a heart failure specialist nurse so by qualifying in echocardiography as well I will be crossing the bridge between the two ,and it’s such a new innovation that nothing is set in stone.

“I will be able to evolve the role and service to best suit the needs of the patients and it is pushing the boundaries of nursing practice.

“It is very exciting and this is the best job that I have ever had in a 22-year nursing career but the only reason it is happening is because of Dr Thomas. He is so passionate about this.”

Corwen based Dr Thomas, who is a medical advisor to BCU’s heart failure nurses,  said: “Although the current echocardiography service and follow up for patients with left ventricular systolic dysfunction is regarded as one of the best in Wales, patients with other types of heart failure or other common cardiac problems do not usually receive any local specialist service. We are working hard to evolve a world class service in community cardiology across the whole of BCUHB.

“This mobile facility is an exciting and innovative development, which we believe will result in Viki being the first nurse in the UK, and possibly worldwide, to develop this scope and role. She will be a key player, with her physiologist colleagues in enhancing these services.

“It will be of huge benefit to patients, particularly in the more rural parts of north west Wales and should mean that more people are seen, more quickly.”

Ffion Johnstone, BCUHB west area director said: “Every month our staff provide excellent care across North Wales, and we are constantly looking for innovative ways to deliver our services, expertly and cost effectively, for the benefit of patients.

“This innovation is part of our long term strategy of listening to what the people of North Wales want – delivering the right care, in the right place and  by the right person.”