Published on: 1 August 2019

A hearing expert at Sunderland Royal Hospital is part of a team who are in the running for a national award for their work to improve healthcare for people with a learning disability in Sunderland.

Dr Lynzee McShea, Senior Clinical Scientist in Audiology with South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, and colleagues at the University of Sunderland, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and NHS Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) are shortlisted in the Nursing Times Awards 2019 in the Learning Disabilities Nursing category for promoting equity in physical health screening.

People with learning disabilities have a significantly lower life expectancy than the general population and are at higher risk of certain diseases and conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and hearing loss. Over the course of two years, the partnership generated key strategies to make physical healthcare for people with a learning disability accessible and a positive experience and reduce inequalities through initiatives such as pop-up clinics offering health screenings, results and advice in a relaxed and familiar environment.


‘Near patient testing’, or ‘Point of Care Testing’(POCT), in the clinics allowed people to have laboratory tests done quickly and easily, using advanced and portable handheld instruments which are less invasive than traditional methods. In many cases, accurate results can be obtained from one small drop of blood from a finger prick test in a very short period of time and presented to the patient quickly - often on the same day as their appointment.

Every person who attended the pop-up clinics was given a quick and easy hearing assessment. As a result, a range of conditions was found, including perforated eardrums, infections and possible hearing loss, which had not been detected prior to the screening.

Dr McShea, Audiology lead for the collaborative initiative, said: “I am proud to represent South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust’s Audiology department in such an innovative project to change attitudes and raise awareness. Hearing loss in people with learning disabilities is often overlooked or misdiagnosed, with wide-reaching consequences.”

Since 2008, Dr McShea has led a clinic for people with complex needs, including learning disabilities and dementia, in the Audiology department at Sunderland Royal Hospital. It is the only one of its kind in the North East and won a national Advancing Healthcare Award in 2015.

She added: “This latest project is part of our continuing commitment to improving the lives of adults with learning disabilities and hearing loss. We have achieved amazing, life-changing results for many people whose hearing condition would, otherwise, have gone undetected.”

The annual Nursing Times Awards highlight excellence in a wide range of nursing specialties, from mental health to clinical research, and provide the opportunity to congratulate peers, leaders and the brightest talent entering the profession. This year’s awards’ presentation will be held on October 30th at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane, London. 

Karen Giles, Principal Lecturer at the University of Sunderland’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing, said: “It’s fantastic to be recognised at a national level by the Nursing Times Awards through the nomination process. Our partnership worked together to solve a problem and improve the quality of people’s lives. We took an idea that started as just a question and through the process of working with people locally something positive has resulted.

“This is a celebration for us all. We are determined to be part of making physical healthcare for people with learning disabilities in Sunderland accessible and a positive experience. Pop-up clinics and POCT provides us with a model to do exactly that.”

Linda Reiling, Mental Health Learning Disability and Autism Commissioner for NHS Sunderland CCG, said: “I felt incredibly proud when I found out about this nomination. This is a collaborative project which brings together different organisations across Sunderland who all continue to strive towards innovative approaches to delivering quality care to those with learning disabilities.

“Having these different organisations who are all bought into the overall vision of delivering innovative models of care is inspiring as well as having the opportunity to professionally develop our nursing workforce via skills and competency. Obviously, the main driver in our vision is to improve the physical healthcare of our learning disability patients which will help prevent premature mortality of these individuals.”

Ashley Murphy, Learning Disability and Autism Primary Care Programme Manager for NHS Sunderland CCG and Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, worked alongside the University and organised the pop-up clinics.

She said: “This is a celebration for all of us. We are determined to be part of making physical healthcare for people with a learning disability in Sunderland an accessible and positive experience. POCT provides us with a model to do exactly that. We have identified scores of individuals who have hearing loss, raised cholesterol and people who are potentially pre-diabetic by screening with easy-to-use, non-anxiety-provoking methods.”