Private healthcare providers have welcomed news that the Government’s target of opening 160 community diagnostic centres (CDCs) will be met a year early.
According to the boss of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN,) the development highlights the huge role being played in the NHS by independent providers.
David Hare said: ‘This is just part of the independent sector’s support for the NHS and the sector remains committed to continuing to work closely with the NHS, delivering timely, high-quality care, free at the point of use.’
But Charlotte Wickens, policy adviser at The King’s Fund think-tank, warned that although the expansion of diagnostic capacity was welcome news for thousands of patients, CDCs’ ability to speed up access to scans and tests had yet to realise their potential.
‘Only 6.3% of tests during August 2023 were carried out in CDCs and between March and August 2023, CDCs carried out over 700,000 tests. There is a long way to go in terms of building capacity before meeting the ambition of 17 million tests by March 2025.’
She said CDCs also had a wider ambition to deliver diagnostics differently, in a way that tackles health inequalities and moves access to diagnostics into underserved and deprived communities.
But setting them up in the community had proved to be expensive and many were on existing NHS sites rather than in new and more accessible locations.
‘This means CDCs may not be as responsive to health inequalities and deprivation as they were intended to be.’
Some patients waiting more than 40 weeks will now be contacted and offered the opportunity to travel to a different hospital. Mr Hare said this could make a big difference to many patients.
All 160 centres are scheduled to open by March 2024, a year ahead of the original March 2025 target.
CDCs are housed in a variety of settings, including shopping centres, university campuses and football stadiums. 127 are already open – including 40 brought forward earlier than planned.
Three of the final locations are set to open in December 2023. They are at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup, south-east London; Halifax, West Yorkshire; and Chichester University, West Sussex.
Thirteen CDCs are led by the independent sector, eight of them already operational. Another 22 CDCs are on the NHS estate, where the independent sector is providing diagnostic services.