The Government has announced the launch of 13 new community diagnostic centres (CDCs) in England, eight of which will be led by the private sector.
The announcement comes one day after NHS England announced CDCs and local hospital hubs would make more areas of diagnostics directly accessible to GPs without requiring a specialist referral.
Health secretary Steve Barclay said that by ‘making use of the available capacity in the independent sector’, paid for by the NHS, patients will gain ‘a wider choice of venues to receive treatment and in doing so diagnose major illnesses quicker and start treatments sooner’.
There are currently 114 CDCs around England, offering ‘one stop shop’ tests including for cancer but yesterday NHS England said they would also start doing tests for asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease and heart failure ordered directly by the patient’s GP.
It said this would help reduce winter pressure on hospitals although GP leaders warned it would pile pressure on overworked GPs who already face barriers to referring patients to specialist care.
The 13 new CDCs will provide capacity for more than 742,000 extra tests a year once all are fully operational, which they will become between this winter and next year.
According to the Department of Health and Social Care, which intends to open up to 160 centres in total, CDCs ‘drive efficiency’ in the NHS by ‘shielding’ diagnostic services from ‘wider hospital pressures’.
Explaining the use of the private sector to run the centres, Mr Barclay said: ‘We must use every available resource to deliver life-saving checks to ease pressure on the NHS.’
While health minister and elective recovery taskforce chair Will Quince added that he had ‘turbocharged’ the NHS effort to bring down waiting lists.
‘These actions will bolster capacity across the country and give patients more choice over where and when they are treated,’ he said.
The DHSC has also published its response to a consultation on a new procurement system that give NHS commissioners more freedom to purchase services without what it called ‘unnecessary levels of competitive tendering and barriers to integrating care’, following the abolition of section 75 regulations from Health and Social Care Act.
National director for elective care Stella Vig said NHS England has increased its use of the independent sector ‘by more than a third since April 2021’, ‘carrying out 90,000 appointments and procedures and more than 10,000 diagnostic tests every week’.
She added: ‘Independent providers will continue to play a key role as we work towards the next milestone in our recovery plan, as well as the additional one stop shops announced today as part of NHS England’s rollout of community diagnostic centres.’
NHS England is tracking use of private sector services paid for by NHS and will evaluate how impactful it is, the DHSC added.
This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.