Early and accurate diagnosis of a medical condition is routinely key to its successful treatment, but too often people struggle to access the necessary diagnostic resources.
Now the NHS is set to radically overhaul the way it delivers diagnostic services – including MRI and CT scans – so that people can receive life-saving checks close to their homes. It will help save lives and improve people’s quality of life with a wide range of ailments, including cancer, stroke, heart disease and respiratory conditions.
The shake-up is outlined in a major report by Professor Sir Mike Richards, who was commissioned to review diagnostic services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan. His report recommends setting up community diagnostic hubs, or ‘one-stop-shops’, across the country. They would be separate from hospitals and could be created in town centres or on retail parks.
Because the recommendations in report are so far-reaching, they will take time to implement and require significant investment in facilities, equipment and personnel. Key recommendations include:
- CT scanning capacity should be doubled over the next five years to meet increasing demand and match other developed countries
- Tests for heart and lung diseases need to be enhanced given the link to coronavirus
- More staff need to be trained to undertake screening colonoscopies
- The imaging workforce needs to be expanded as soon as possible, with 2,000 additional radiologists and 4,000 radiographers as well as other support staff
- Better access to blood tests in the community so that people can give samples close to their homes, at least six days a week, without having to go to hospital
- Tests for emergency and elective diagnostics should be separate, to reduce hold-ups for patients in urgent need.
Professor Sir Mike, who was the first NHS national cancer director and the Care Quality Commission’s chief inspector of hospitals, said the need for radical change has been further amplified by the coronavirus pandemic.
He 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.”
Providing a wide range of diagnostic services away from hospitals will also ease the pressure on those currently available in hospital settings. It means hospital patients should get scans and other diagnostic procedures more quickly, leading to faster treatment and shorter hospital stays.
Setting up the diagnostic community hubs will mean investing in the latest generation of CT and MRI scanners, but buying them in large numbers means the NHS can negotiate the best possible price, says the report.