England set to have more diagnostic hubs to tackle NHS waiting lists

Topics covered: Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England, UK Government

The Government is setting up 19 more diagnostic centres in communities across England to help tackle the COVID-19 backlog. Currently, there are 91 diagnostic centres operating which have delivered more than 2.4 million tests, checks, and scans since last summer. The purpose of the diagnostic centres is to help speed up access to services for patients, and to reduce waiting times.

What is causing the need for diagnostic centres?

Currently, there are 7 million people in England who are waiting for hospital treatment. This is a record high, and it is being driven by hospitals who are struggling to get back to full strength following the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of people waiting longer than 2 years for routine operations in England has fallen dramatically since January 2022 however, health experts say there is still a mountain to climb to reduce the numbers waiting more than a year. It is expected to get worse throughout the winter, with more delays and pressure, especially with strikes from NHS nurses and ambulance workers planned in December 2022. As a result, a taskforce made up of academics and health experts has been set up to unlock space capacity in the private sector to reduce waiting times. This taskforce met with 10 Downing Street on Wednesday 7 December 2022 to discuss progress.

What is being done?

The taskforce will focus on improving collaboration to speed up the number of eye, knee and hip operations being performed, maximising the use of hospital theatres, beds and outpatient settings. GPs will be heavily involved in the collaboration, and are able to refer patients to community diagnostic hubs for a range of conditions, reducing the amount of people travelling into hospitals. Some of these diagnostic centres will be located inside football stadiums and shopping centres and can offer MRI and CT scans as well as x-rays. The Government wants to eliminate 18-month waits by April 2023 and waits of longer than one year by March 2025. In order to achieve this, the Government has invested an extra £8bn into health and social care in 2024-2025.

What is being said?

The Department of Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:

“The taskforce is looking at sensible ways of using all existing capacity to slash waiting lists, while ensuring the NHS always remains free at the point of use. The NHS is facing an unprecedented challenge to tackle COVID-19 backlogs. Hardworking staff have made strong progress but I want to turbocharge our current plans to bust the backlog and help patients get the treatment they need.”

NHS England’s national director of elective recovery, Sir James Mackey, said:

“NHS staff were working incredibly hard to tackle the COVID-19 backlog.”

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