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Infectious Diseases 2021

Looking for ways to support the recovery of NHS diagnostic services

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The pandemic has increased the backlog of people waiting for diagnostic tests. New ways of delivering these services are needed to increase efficiency and keep patients safe.

In 2019, the NHS Long Term Plan — a report from frontline health and care staff, patients and other experts — identified the need for a radical overhaul of NHS diagnostic services. Rising demand had put this area of healthcare under increasing strain and, as a result, many patients were waiting longer than six weeks for a diagnostic test.

Unfortunately, the global pandemic has made things markedly worse. Because of the need to deep clean equipment and facilities, diagnostic patient backlogs have increased (particularly in CT scanning and endoscopy) while the numbers of people waiting more than six weeks for a test have risen further. A major review called Diagnostics: Recovery and Renewal notes that radical changes to the system need to be made — and urgently.

Diagnostics: Recovery and Renewal has been published by NHS England and includes 24 recommendations which the report’s authors believe will improve diagnostic services delivery. Major expansion and reform of these services is required over the next five years to aid recovery from the pandemic and meet rising demand from patients and GPs, yet this is only part of the answer. New ways of getting diagnostic tests to patients are also needed to keep people safe in a COVID-19 endemic world.

Importance of COVID testing for diagnostics patients

A key takeaway from the review is that Community Diagnostic Hubs (CDHs) should be established across the country to act as a ‘one stop shop’ for patients. CDHs should be located away from hospital sites (in available space on the high street or in retail parks, for example) to lower infection rates, improve efficiency and reduce delays.

Diagnostic services should be organised so that patients only have to attend once; and, where appropriate, they should be given a COVID-19 test before their diagnostic test. Indeed, the review believes that availability of COVID-19 testing for patients and healthcare professionals is “likely to be critical, especially when community prevalence of the virus is high.” It also recommends that pathology and genomics equipment and facilities should be upgraded to help with the introduction of new technologies and support COVID-19 testing.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has further amplified the need for radical change in the provision of diagnostic services,” says Professor Sir Mike Richards, Chair, Independent Review of Diagnostic Services for NHS England. “But (it) has also provided an opportunity for change.”

This content was put together by Tony Greenway for Mediaplanet based on content from: Diagnostics: Recovery and Renewal by NHS England

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