A new referral tool will help GPs to reduce ‘inappropriate’ requests made to radiology departments, the Government has said.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) this week announced that the NHS will receive a cash injection of £248m to overhaul diagnostics services and tackle waiting lists, including funding for the clinical decision tool.
The tool will enable GPs to select the most appropriate scan for a patient, looking at symptoms and medical history, the DHSC said.
It added that the tool aims to ‘cut inappropriate requests made to radiology departments, saving radiologists’ time’ and ensuring patients access the correct scans when they need them’.
Guidelines for the tool will be issued by the Royal College of Radiologists and it will be used across England.
A DHSC spokesperson told Pulse on background that use of the tool will not be mandatory for GPs, but that it will be embedded in the system to support referrals.
The funding will also be used to digitalise diagnostic pathways using the newest technology to enhance the way tests, images and results are shared across systems in hospitals, labs and GP practices, the DHSC said.
It added that the investment will lessen the ‘administrative burden’ on NHS staff, allowing them to ‘analyse more tests, checks and scans while also reducing the turnaround time from a patient taking a test to receiving a diagnosis and then starting treatment’.
BMA council deputy chair Dr David Wrigley told Pulse that the Government’s aims are ‘commendable’ but that it must address the NHS workforce crisis ‘as a priority’ in order to ‘deliver on the technology [it is] investing in’.
He said: ‘The NHS is in need of much more than improved sharing, including further diagnostic services across both primary and secondary care. When you consider all the other factors that are causing the ever-growing patient waiting lists, there is much more that is needed to be done.
‘When developing strategies to tackle the backlog there is simply no ignoring the NHS workforce crisis.’
He added: ‘Without addressing this significant workforce shortage – including the retention of staff who are currently exhausted as they continue to manage unsustainable and unsafe workloads and addressing punitive pension taxation which drives clinicians away from additional work – any effort here risks rendering these investments ineffectual.’
The Government must also allocate ‘sufficient resources’ to train staff to ‘make best use of any new technology’, Dr Wrigley said.
NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: ‘NHS staff are making efficient use of additional funding and following the recent rollout of new diagnostic centres, the number of patients waiting for a diagnostic test is falling for the first time in a year, meaning more people are getting the checks they need and if required, are able to begin treatment sooner.’
The diagnostics funding follows the long-awaited expansion of the ‘one-stop-shop’ community diagnostics centre scheme, with 40 new hubs opening across the country next year.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak also set out in the recent Spending Review that £2.3bn of the £5.9bn NHS funding would go towards diagnostic services.
It comes as NHS leaders have warned that primary care is the ‘greatest area of concern’ in the health and care system, as new data revealed that the hospital waiting list has hit a record high and ambulance response times have risen to triple the 18-minute target.