These are exciting times at Luton & Dunstable Hospital’s rheumatology service.
There are three new consultants, who join the existing three, a new state-of-the-art ultrasound machine (with two more on the way) and a new home for the service’s clinics on the ground floor, providing easier access.
Lead consultant Dr Daniel Fishman claims the £30,000 machine is already making a vital difference.
He explained: “In the past ultrasound was done in the X-ray department and it took weeks to get results.
“Now we use it straight away in the clinic. Early diagnosis of inflammatory arthritis allows us to move patients more quickly on to biological drug therapies which are more modern and effective and have been recognised as improving outcomes.
“Ultrasound improves diagnostic accuracy as well as patients’ understanding of their condition because they can see everything going on inside their joints, on the screen.” He added: “Osteoporosis can also be connected to arthritis, so we now have a fortnighly bone health clinic.”
People over 50 can also be affected by GCA (giant cell arteritis), due to inflammation of the medium and large-sized arteries. It can cause blindness and stroke and its high dose steroid treatment can have side effects.
“That’s why it’s important to get the diagnosis right and ultrasound can help me do that,” according to new specialist consultant Dr Vanessa Quick who has lectured on the importance of ultrasound to rheumatology. “Inflamed arteries can look thicker and darker on ultrasound.”
Consultant Dr Balaji Ramabhadran is another enthusiast.
He said: “Ultrasound plays a huge role in patient education, giving them a visual impression and improving their experience.
“It’s also used for injections and transfusions, targetting specific sites.”
There are more than 200 different types of arthritis and new consultant Dr Tanya Baqai is particularly interested in the one related to psoriasis.
She said: “It’s the poor relation in terms of knowledge and research and we’re trying to raise awareness.
“It can affect the skin and confuses the immune system. It also affects the joints, bowels and eyes for reasons we don’t understand yet.”
The new location is well on its way to being a one-stop clinic.
Dr Fishman said: “We’ve brought all our services together in one area and doubled our consultants from three to six, enabling us to offer a better range of specialities and provide a first class, much improved experience for our patients.”