An increase in cancer diagnostic tests provided by primary care networks (PCNs) should be ‘considered’ to reduce the burden on hospitals, NHS England has said.
And GPs should have ‘greater access’ to other tests before they refer patients, it added.
It comes as Pulse has revealed that two-thirds of GPs have experienced a ‘significant’ increase in ‘workload dump’ by hospitals due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
New NHS England guidance on urgent cancer diagnostic services during the pandemic outlined ‘opportunities to increase diagnostic testing in primary care’, such as x-rays and ultrasounds.
The guidance, published yesterday, said: ‘To protect patients from Covid-19, it is important to reduce the number of attendances in acute care or hospital settings.
‘Increasing the capacity of primary care networks to perform initial diagnostic tests such as X-ray and ultrasound could reduce the need for secondary care attendances.’
Local Covid response plans should ‘consider’ implementing this, including ‘mobile’ diagnostic facilities, it added.
For example, mobile or primary care chest x-rays could be implemented for patients with suspected lung cancer and ultrasounds for suspected sarcoma should be delivered in primary care ‘where possible’, it said.
NHS England also said that GPs should have ‘greater access to straight-to-test pathways’ to ‘streamline’ services.
It said: ‘Where available and clinically appropriate, high-sensitivity tests should be available by direct GP access pre-referral (eg ultrasound for suspected gynaecological cancers or sarcoma, CT or MRI for brain tumours).’
And hospitals will retain responsibility for patients whose tests are delayed, the guidance added.
It said: ‘Local systems should apply safety-netting for those not immediately having investigations, with responsibility residing in provider trusts.’
Earlier this month, NHS England issued new measures to tackle GP workload as Covid cases spiralled, including the suspension of local enhanced services and further QOF income protection.
And updated guidance from the RCGP and BMA recommended that ‘most’ GP practices in the UK should pause all or a ‘significant’ proportion of their non-essential work.