The new 'one stop shop' community diagnostic hubs could be set up on high streets or in retail parks and will 'radically overhaul' the way diagnostics are delivered, NHS England said.
The plan is one of a series of recommendations made by former national cancer director Professor Sir Mike Richardson who was commissioned to review diagnostic services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.
His report, which was accepted by NHS England at its board meeting this week, also suggested that access to phlebotomy services in the community should be expanded and available 'at least' six days a week, so that patients are not required to attend hospital for blood tests. Phlebotomy could be provided in GP practices, pharmacies or community diagnostic hubs, it added.
The report said that the COVID-19 pandemic had 'further amplified the need for radical change in the provision of diagnostic services'.
'Much more now needs to be done in the recovery period to establish new pathways to diagnosis, so that both patients and healthcare professionals can be assured that investigations will be done safely,' it said.
The report recommended that new diagnositc pathways should build on those established during the initial phase of the COVID-19 response 'with virtual consultations and community diagnostics promoted to keep visits to acute hospital sites to a minimum'.
Acute and elective diagnostics should be 'separated wherever possible to increase efficiency', the report added and 'services should be organised so that as far as possible patients only have to attend once'.
CT scanning capacity
The report also said that CT scanning capacity needed to be doubled over the next five years in order to meet increased demand and 'match other developed countries'.
In order to deliver on the recommendations the NHS would need to recruit an additional 2,000 radiologists and 4,000 radiographers, as well as other support staff.
Sir Mike said: 'The pandemic has brought into sharper focus the need to overhaul the way our diagnostic services are delivered. While these changes will take time and investment in facilities and more staff, it is the right moment to seize the opportunities to assist recovery and renewal of the NHS.
'Not only will these changes make services more accessible and convenient for patients but they will help improve outcomes for patients with cancer and other serious conditions.'