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NHS tests and scans are to be offered at football stadiums and shopping centres to help deal with the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The health service is launching 40 new “one-stop shop” diagnostic centres across England, which will carry out a wide range of health checks following referrals from GPs.
Some of the sites will be set up in existing buildings including a repurposed retail outlet in Poole, the Falmer Stadium – home of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club – and The Glass Works shopping centre in Barnsley.
The scheme, backed by a £350 million Government investment, aims to provide around 2.8 million scans in the first year of operation.
Hubs will be staffed by teams of professionals including nurses and radiographers and will be open seven days a week.
While the number of cancer tests has returned to levels seen before March 2020, the NHS said the centres will help tackle the backlog that has built up during the pandemic.
It is also hoped they will help doctors make earlier diagnoses for patients through more direct access to a full range of diagnostic tests, reduce hospital visits and therefore the risk of Covid transmission, cut down waiting times, and help meet emissions targets by providing multiple tests at one visit and reducing the number of journeys patients have to make.
The centres will begin providing services over the next six months, with some already up and running, and will be fully operational by March 2022.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Tackling waiting lists will require new and more innovative ways of delivering the services people need. That is why we’re making it easier and more convenient to get checked.
“Our new Community Diagnostic Centres will bring those crucial tests closer to home including in the communities that need them most. They will help enable earlier diagnosis, allowing us to catch cancer and other issues as quickly as possible, and save more lives.”
The centres are one of the recommendations from Professor Sir Mike Richards, the first NHS national cancer director, who conducted a review of diagnostic services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, published last year.
He said: “The pandemic brought into sharper focus the need to overhaul the way we deliver diagnostic services and so I am absolutely delighted to see one of the key recommendations of my report becoming a reality for patients so quickly.
“I have no doubt that many people will benefit from these new NHS Community Diagnostic Centres, bringing together many tests in one convenient place.”
Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “NHS staff have continued to provide routine care, throughout the pandemic, alongside treating around 450,000 seriously ill Covid patients in hospital, and the roll-out of these community diagnostic centres will help us to spot problems sooner, when they are easier to treat.”