Putting Diagnostic Centres at the heart of Communities – the ‘art of the possible’ in the North

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that the spirit behind the Community Diagnostic Centres (CDC) were to help “patients benefit from earlier diagnostics closer to home, without ever having to set foot in a hospital.”  This concept is at the heart of the NHS elective recovery delivery plan and the current health reforms.

As a key part of the elective care pathway, access to early diagnostic tests will reduce the time it takes patients to be diagnosed and treated for serious conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, improving patient outcomes.  Bringing diagnostic services out of the hospital and into community-based settings makes it more accessible and convenient for patients, as evidence suggests many people don’t like visiting hospitals, especially for routine tests and scans.

“Utilising spaces that are already paid for would secure greater value for the NHS and taxpayers’ money, enabling better health outcomes.”

Community Health Partnerships is an NHS company working in partnership with local communities supporting care delivery via a portfolio of 310 health properties.  Nine out of ten buildings are in areas of high health and social need.  Drawing on our experience of delivering an early adopter CDC in five months, which has been operating for eight months, and a further two in development, we are looking at the potential options in the North West region.

Maximising the investment in community-based diagnostics

We have 78 community-based buildings in the North West developed via public private partnerships.  They are modern, high-quality facilities maintained to high standards.  Our data shows we already host a range of specialist diagnostic services including 1 endoscopy suite, 5 MRIs, 3 CT scanners, 15 x-ray rooms, and 33 ophthalmology rooms.  Add to this non-specialist diagnostics such as 40 buildings with phlebotomy services and this is the basic ingredients for a Community Diagnostic Centre.

A detailed analysis of local health data that looks at access, outcomes, demand, current service backlog and system performance across an ICS area can provide a well-informed options appraisal. Undertaking a proper holistic estate analysis with inform decisions on getting the maximum impact and value from investment in CDCs.

An opportunity in Cumbria

To give an example of the possible set up at CHP buildings, Cockermouth Community Hospital has an existing external ‘pad’ for a mobile x-ray or MRI unit. Alongside that, there is a spare diagnostic suite available that could provide additional diagnostic services as such as ECG and rhythm monitoring, echo cardiograms and ultrasound, for example. We know that as a region, people living in the North East and North Cumbria have a significantly lower healthy life expectancy than the national average.

From Cockermouth, the nearest major hospital is 15 miles away at West Cumberland Hospital, Whitehaven. Adding more diagnostic facilities into the heart of the community will improve access to early diagnosis for local people, allow them to be treater quicker and enable better health outcomes.

CHP working with our local public private partnerships can help Trusts, CCGs and Integrated Care Systems understand the bigger picture. We work with our partners to design bespoke solutions for services at each CHP building. We have access to data to understand ‘the art of the possible’ for improving access to community-based diagnostic services at pace across the existing estate portfolio. Utilising spaces that are already paid for would secure greater value for the NHS and taxpayers’ money, enabling better health outcomes.

At a time when the NHS revenue budget has been cut by £330million and is expected to live within its means, we should be compelled to make the most of what we already got.  Utilising assets the NHS already has and pays for, that can be quickly adapted, as we have seen in other parts of the country, could mean getting a CDC operational in months, rather than years.  Surely this is better for patients and for the NHS.

To find out more about how we can support ICS teams to deliver a Community Diagnostic Centre in your local area, please contact your Regional Director.

Author: Andy Muir, Regional Director for the North West at Community Health Partnerships.

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25 April 2022

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