The government will meet its target to open 160 community diagnostic centres a year early, the Health and Social Care Secretary has announced. All 160 centres will be open by March 2024, a year ahead of the original March 2025 target – speeding up access to potentially lifesaving tests and checks.
Based in a variety of settings including shopping centres, university campuses and football stadiums, 127 of the community healthcare hubs are already open – including 40 brought forward earlier than planned. They offer patients a wide range of diagnostic tests closer to home and greater choice on where and how they are treated, reducing the need for hospital visits and helping them to receive potentially life-saving care sooner.
The programme constitutes the largest central cash investment in MRI and CT scanning capacity in the history of the NHS and has already delivered more than 5 million additional tests, checks and scans across the country. The new centres will provide capacity for 9 million more by 2025 as part of the NHS and government’s plan to recover services following the pandemic.
The government has announced 3 of the final locations which will serve tens of thousands of patients, with all set to open in December 2023. They are:
Queen Mary’s Sidcup CDC – based in south-east London, the facility will offer CT, MRI and ultrasound checks, along with blood tests – providing at least 58,000 additional checks once fully operational.
Halifax CDC – based at Broad Street Plaza shopping centre in the Yorkshire town, this CDC will offer ultrasound checks, blood tests and heart scans – delivering at least 90,000 tests once fully operational.
Chichester University CDC, Bognor Regis – this facility will offer CT and MRI scans along with ultrasound checks and blood tests to patients, and deliver at least 18,000 additional tests once fully operational.
In total, 13 of the CDCs are led by the independent sector, with eight of these already operational. There are a further 22 CDCs located on the NHS estate where the independent sector is providing diagnostic services. They function like NHS-run CDCs but by making use of the available capacity in the independent sector patients can access additional diagnostic capacity free at the point of need.
Alongside this, as the Prime Minister originally announced in May, hundreds of thousands of NHS patients who have been waiting longer than 40 weeks for treatment will now be offered the opportunity to travel to a different hospital as part of ambitious measures set out in the elective recovery plan.
Any patient who has been waiting longer than 40 weeks and does not have an appointment within the next 8 weeks will be contacted by their hospital via letter, text or email. The 400,000 eligible patients will then be able to submit their details, including how far they are willing to travel.
Thanks to this and wider measures, the government successfully met the first target in its elective recovery plan to virtually eliminate waits of over two years and has cut 18-month waits by over 90% from the peak in September 2021.
Earlier this year, the government’s Elective Recovery Taskforce set out a plan to maximise independent sector capacity to treat NHS patients more quickly. Chaired by Health Minister Will Quince and made up of academics and experts from the NHS and independent sector, the taskforce looked for ways to go further to bust the COVID-19 backlogs and reduce waiting times for patients.
Its recommendations will ensure patients have the right to receive care at a provider of their choice, encourage the system to work together to deliver a post-pandemic recovery, and monitor the contribution of the independent sector to delivering health services and developing the workforce.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Patients deserve the highest quality care, and community diagnostic centres have been instrumental in speeding up the diagnosis of illnesses like cancer and heart disease to ensure patients are treated more quickly.
“I’m delighted we will open 160 CDCs a year early, allowing greater access to high tech scans and diagnostics in communities across England.
“This has been made possible by using all capacity available to us and drawing on the independent sector – helping us to cut waiting lists, one of the government’s top 5 priorities”.