NHS diagnostics overhaul wasted without adequate workforce plan, BMA warns

Plans to speed up diagnosis and cut waiting lists by spending £248m on modernising diagnostics will be 'ineffectual' if the government continues to ignore the NHS workforce crisis, the BMA has warned.

Chest x-ray (Photo: In Pictures Ltd/Corbis/Getty Images)
Chest x-ray (Photo: In Pictures Ltd/Corbis/Getty Images)

NHS diagnostics services will be digitalised to improve the way tests, images and results can be shared across computer systems in hospitals, labs and GP surgeries, the government announced this week.

A new tool to help GPs choose the most suitable scan for their patient based on symptoms and medical history has also been promised as part of plans to help reduce inappropriate requests and ensure timely scans.

But BMA deputy chair Dr David Wrigley warned that 'much more' needs to be done to tackle other factors that are contributing to the 'ever-growing pateint waiting list', including 'unsafe workloads' and 'punitive pension taxation' for doctors.

Patient waiting times

NHS services will receive almost a quarter of a billion pounds over the next year to invest in technology that will deliver more diagnostic tests, checks and scans to help provide faster diagnosis of a health condition, earlier treatment and reduce waiting lists.

The investment aims to reduce the admin burden on NHS staff and shorten waiting times for patients to receive results. GPs and other clinicians in primary care will also be able to access results more quickly and easily, even if they are working from different settings.

Speaking about the investment, health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘[The] multi-million pound investment will play a big role in levelling up diagnostics services across the country so patients can get faster results and healthcare professionals can get their job done more easily, reducing unnecessary administrative burden.

‘Getting a faster diagnosis for a health condition is the first step to getting more people the treatment they need and earlier on, and our funding will help ensure our NHS has access to the latest digital technology to drive up efficiency.’

NHS workforce crisis

Deputy chair of BMA council Dr David Wrigley welcomed the funding, labelling aims to relieve patient waiting times as ‘commendable’. But he argued that additional steps must be taken to to address the care backlog.

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 needs to be done.

'When developing strategies to tackle the backlog there is simply no ignoring the NHS workforce crisis. Without addressing this significant workforce shortage - including the retention 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 as a priority must ensure that the NHS addresses these problems in order to deliver on the technology that they are investing in.'

GP funding

Earlier this year the government announced funding worth £2.3bn over the next three years to transform diagnostic services, with at least 100 community diagnostic centres across England.

As part of the plans GPs will be able to refer patients to ‘one-stop-shops’ for patients to access life-saving checks, scans and tests more quickly, which will result in faster diagnosis and treatment.

The government's failure to mention general practice in its budget last month was labelled 'hugely disappointing' by the BMA - warning that a lack of workforce planning would produce a 'minimal' impact on reducing the backlog of care.

Mr Javid also admitted last month that the government was not on track to meet its manifesto commitment to deliver an extra 6,000 full-time equivalent GPs by 2024.

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