Patients needing a scan to diagnose conditions such as cancer will be able to get them on the high street under new plans being considered by the NHS.
Ryan Merrifield www.mirror.co.uk
Health Service chiefs are drawing up plans for a reported 160 one-stop shops to provide routine checks and increase the likelihood of early diagnosis for cancer, heart disease and dementia.
They want to “radically overhaul” the way X-rays, MRI and CT scans are delivered with the innovative new set ups.
The hubs could also provide people with blood tests six days a week, lung function tests and endoscopy, without the need to go to hospital.
Bigger centres could offer mammograms, eye services, scans for pregnant women, hearing tests and gynaecological services.
CT scanning capacity would double in five years, while an extra 6,000 specialist imaging staff would be hired, reports the Sun.
The newspaper also reports figures for sick people facing long waits for diagnostic tests rose 20-fold in lockdown.
By June, there were 580,000 waiting, compared with just 30,000 in February.
In a report presented to NHS England, former cancer tsar Professor Sir Mike Richards set out how the hubs could work, particularly while the Covid-19 pandemic continues.
His study said patients may prefer to be treated away from hospitals “in a Covid-19 minimal hub”, with the centres set up on the high street or retail parks.
Children’s investigations could also be carried out in the community hubs as long as there was proper staff training, including blood tests, ultrasound, X-rays and heart monitoring.
Investigations for patients presenting with blood in the urine or who need tests for prostate cancer could also be undertaken in the hubs, the report said.
Staff working at the centres could be called upon to support the delivery of some tests (such as mobile X-rays) in patients’ homes or in care homes.
Sir Mike was commissioned by NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens to review diagnostic services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.
The report said emergency diagnostic services in hospitals should be separated from planned services wherever possible to increase efficiency.
It added: “Acute diagnostic services (for A&E and inpatient care) should be improved so that patients who require CT scanning or ultrasound from A&E can be imaged without delay.
“Inpatients needing CT or MRI should be able to be scanned on the day of request.”
The study said that before the pandemic, “the need for radical improvement in diagnostic services was already clear-cut”, amid rising demand.
Diagnostic services in the NHS were already “reaching a tipping point”, with fewer people seen within NHS targets and more work being outsourced to private firms.
The study said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the pre-existing problems in diagnostics.
“The risk of infection to and from patients attending for diagnostic tests has slowed throughput in all aspects of diagnostics, but particularly in CT scanning and endoscopy.
“This is due to the need to deep clean equipment and facilities if a patient’s Covid-19 status is positive or unknown.
“The backlog of patients waiting more than six weeks for diagnostics has increased very significantly since the start of the pandemic and now needs to be tackled as quickly as possible.”
The report said that, to help this problem, community diagnostic hubs “should be rapidly established to provide Covid-19 minimal, highly productive elective diagnostic centres for cancer, cardiac, respiratory and other conditions”.
And it says CT scanning capacity should be expanded by 100% over the next five years “to meet increasing demand and to match other developed countries”.
Meanwhile, hospitals with an A&E should have access to a minimum of two CT scanners so patients known to be Covid-19 negative can be kept separate from those who are Covid-19 uncertain or Covid-19 positive.
This would help clear the screening backlog, while further demand is expected to come from patients recovering from Covid-19 with respiratory and cardiac problems.
To support the key plan, Sir Mike calls for a “major expansion” in the workforce, with an extra 2,000 radiologists and 4,000 radiographers as well as other support staff.
Sir Mike said: “The pandemic has brought into sharper focus the need to overhaul the way our diagnostic services are delivered.
“While these changes will take time and investment in facilities and more staff, it is the right moment to seize the opportunities to assist recovery and renewal of the NHS.
“Not only will these changes make services more accessible and convenient for patients but they will help improve outcomes for patients with cancer and other serious conditions.”