Diagnostic testing and processes are to be digitised by the NHS, which has received £248 million in funding from the government, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced.
The funding will provide the NHS with the digital infrastructure to increase and improve diagnostic testing, the sharing of test results and images, and increase connectivity and collaboration between GP surgeries, NHS hospitals and labs. This should provide clinicians with rapid access to results, so treatment plans can begin earlier and reduce hospital waiting lists, which are at record high levels.
“The NHS is facing a winter like no other with rising cases of Covid and flu, as well as record demand for emergency services,” said Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director of the announcement.
The digitisation of diagnostic services was recommended by Professor Sir Mike Richards, chief inspector of hospitals for the Care Quality Commission, in an independent review of diagnostic capacity in the NHS. Richards’ review stated that digitisation should be prioritised and would improve NHS efficiency.
Digitised diagnostics could reduce administrative tasks on NHS staff and enable an increase in analysis of test results and scans. Clinicians will have access to scans and results remotely, and therefore be able to provide diagnosis or trigger next actions from wherever they are working.
DHSC said it believes digitisation will also reduce the turnaround time for patients who have undergone a test.
For GPs, digitisation is expected to provide an improved selection of scan types, with scans based on the patient’s medical history or symptoms.
The NHS should also benefit from a reduction in requests to radiology departments. There is a global shortage of qualified radiologists, but according to the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR), the shortage is especially acute in the UK following Brexit, with nine radiologists per 100,000 people compared with an average of 12 across Europe. This has led to an outsourcing of diagnostics overseas to cover the shortfall.
In the Government's Spending Review DHSC received £2.3 billion for a three-year programme to develop 100 community diagnostic centres in England.
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