New one-stop shops for scans and tests will be set up in community venues in England, including shopping centres and a Premier League football stadium.
The network of 40 diagnostic clinics, according to ministers, will help address the growing backlog in hospital treatment.
They will be able to perform cancer screenings and scans to determine whether people require surgery for things like knee and hip replacements.
The goal is to have them all operational by March.
They will be outfitted with the necessary equipment to perform X-rays, breast screening, ultrasounds, and CT and MRI scans.
Among the sites chosen for the new clinics are:
- The Glass Works shopping centre in Barnsley
- Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club’s Amex Stadium
- A department store in Poole
- A new community health clinic in Oldham
Diagnostic testing in community settings is not a new concept. A number of hospitals already run similar clinics; in fact, some of the sites mentioned in this announcement are already operational.
The investment is desperately needed. Access to tests and scans is currently a major bottleneck in the system, slowing the NHS’s ability to work through the backlog in routine care and, in some cases, delaying cancer diagnosis.
Unless it is an urgent cancer case, the goal is to complete these tests within six weeks of referral.
However, nearly a quarter of patients currently have to wait longer than that. Prior to the pandemic, less than 5% did.
Every year, the NHS performs over 15 million diagnostic tests. According to the government, these clinics will be able to treat 2.8 million people.
However, because there are a scarcity of specialists to perform these tests, it remains to be seen how much these clinics will expand capacity rather than simply transferring services from the hospital to the community.
The need for investment in diagnostic tests was highlighted in the NHS Long Term Plan in 2019.
A review published last year – led by former cancer tsar Prof Sir Mike Richards – said the pandemic had just heightened the need for changes to the way tests are provided.
The goal was to increase community capacity so that hospital testing and scanning facilities could focus more on emergency patients.
Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said the £350 million investment would help address the treatment backlog caused by the pandemic.
“Tackling waiting lists will necessitate new and more innovative methods of providing the services people require,” he said.
“That’s why we’re making it easier and more convenient for people to get checked.”
“These one-stop shops will also help us to improve outcomes for patients with cancer and other serious conditions, ultimately sparing more patients and families the pain and trauma of disease,” said NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard.