Suffolk GP Fed ultrasound – a small good thing #2

Good quality is cheap; it’s poor quality that is expensive

Joe L Griffiths

Suffolk GP Federation is extremely proud of our community ultrasound service. This has grown steadily in size since it started in 2008, now providing 1,000+ scans per month. It was set up in response to concerns from members about the service that was available at the time.

Our approach has provided a much improved service to patients, with shorter waiting times at more convenient, practice based locations. Scan reporting is clear and GP friendly.  Patient and GP feedback continues to be very positive.

However, running the service has not been easy and it has demonstrated the challenge of providing small scale services. In particular:

  1. We have been vulnerable to staffing issues, as demonstrated recently when we had significant staff illness. None of the other local providers were able to help us with this and it caused a serious backlog (which I’m happy to say we are now back on track with).
  2. Short term contracts favoured by commissioners have meant it has been hard to make investment decisions.
  3. We provide a ‘Gold Standard’ service but funding is tariff only.

The importance of quality of service to Fed members was such that – despite this uncertainty – we recently invested in three new scanners at the cost of £120,000. This has made a significant improvement to the service and has led to some very happy sonographers. The growth of the Fed has meant that we’re able to support such services in a way that we were unable to in the past.

We have now empowered our small team to manage and run the service, with appropriate equipment and excellent clinical and operational support. This has allowed us to recently employ two new sonographers, at a time when other providers are unable to recruit.

In partnership with our radiology colleagues at Ipswich Hospital we have also been able to produce some excellent guidance on interpretation of scans, which we have condensed to a one page summary and two flow charts that we will be sending out to practices. The full document can be found here.

For me, the ultrasound service demonstrates the importance of local ownership. It has given us flexibility of the service in meeting the needs of our patients and practices.

If you have any queries about scans, our radiology team will always be happy to advise. You can email them at or call 0845 241 3313 (option 1).