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Community diagnostic centers ‘may struggle to deliver on ministers’ promises’

Only one in five of the government’s top community diagnostic centers is actually “in the community,” according to a new analysis.

Ministerial pledges to bring NHS diagnostic facilities “closer to where people live” have been called into question after it emerged that 47 of the 92 operating facilities were being housed in an existing health facility.

A new analysis by The King’s Fund, made available to the PA news agency, found only 17 of the sites are in the “community” – such as shopping malls – while others are on top of existing hospitals or doctors’ offices.

The centers have been funded to bolster existing services in England to enable people to get tests or scans faster and closer to home, reducing unnecessary hospitalisation.

The Government has pledged £2.3bn to launch up to 160 of the centers by March 2025.

And the Department of Health and Social Care announced on Monday that the centers have already carried out two million tests since they were set up in October last year.

The new King’s Fund report highlights that more than 1.5million people in England are currently awaiting a key test or scan.

Charlotte Wickens, policy adviser at The King’s Fund and author of the briefing, said the centers have “much to learn” from the Covid-19 vaccination program, which has seen people in “convenient and familiar” locations easily access vaccination centers. like churches and temples.

Part of the backlog in diagnostics is due to staff shortages, particularly in specialties such as radiology and pathology, and problems with outdated equipment such as MRI scanners and X-ray machines.

But those issues weren’t addressed with the new centers, and without investment in those areas, the new Community Diagnostic Centers (CDCs) could struggle to meet their goals, The King’s Fund added.

Ms Wickens said: “The Government has claimed that Community Diagnostic Centers will be key to reducing the backlog and there has been much talk of opening centers in football stadiums and retail centres.

“But the location of many centers near existing health facilities should raise questions about whether the government will really achieve its goal of bringing diagnostic testing closer to people’s homes and communities.

“If we look back at the launch of the Covid-19 vaccine, vaccines were not only made available in GP surgeries or hospitals, but in places that were so convenient and familiar, and this was particularly important to ensure equal access for all people regardless of where they lived to offer.

“The success of CDCs becomes more evident when we see whether the people who use them would otherwise be less likely to access services.

“While we welcome more investment to improve underfunded diagnostic services, we call on the government to make clear how these new centers will deliver the testing volume needed to reduce waiting lists and ensure equal access for all.

“Unless the workforce crisis is addressed and there is no real investment in new equipment and technology, they probably won’t be able to fix the diagnostic backlog on their own.”

In an accompanying blog post, she added, “Only an estimated one in five is community based (e.g., shopping malls) rather than a traditional healthcare location (e.g., a hospital or primary care center).

“This could undermine the promise that the CDCs will provide ‘more accessible and convenient’ access to diagnostics.”

She notes that the centers are adding “much-needed diagnostic capacity,” but “there’s a disconnect between what’s being offered — care that’s both closer to home and more convenient — and what’s being delivered, namely diagnostic services that’re primarily in the community.” traditional NHS are the settings”.

The NHS carries out around a billion diagnostic tests each year and the demand is growing. The number of colonoscopies and MRI examinations rose between 4 and 7% in the three years up to 2018/19.

The report highlights that the standard that patients should wait less than six weeks for a diagnostic test has not been met since February 2017.

Commenting on the analysis, David Thomas, Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK said: “Community diagnostic centers like this are a positive development, but we need targeted investment in NHS diagnostics to really accelerate dementia diagnoses.

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