NHS test and scan hubs will be set up at football stadiums and shopping centres to help deal with the Covid backlog as England faces its “toughest winter yet.”
The health service is launching 40 new “one-stop shop” diagnostic centres across the country which will save lives and speed up treatment, say ministers.
These more convenient sites aim to keep routine visits away from Covid patients and offer a wide range of health checks following GP referrals.
Around 2.8 million scans have been promised in the first year of the scheme which is backed by a £350 million government investment.
Londoners will benefit from centres at Finchley Memorial Hospital, Queen Mary’s Hospital, Mile End Hospital and Barking Community Hospital.
Some sites will be set up in existing buildings including a repurposed retail outlet in Poole the Falmer Stadium, home Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club, and The Glass Works shopping centre in Barnsley.
Hubs will be staffed by teams of professionals including nurses and radiographers and will be open seven days a week.
It follows concerns from a health tank warning that waiting lists are likely to “grow significantly” with new analysis to suggest that 7.5 million fewer people were sent for hospital care than expected during the pandemic.
And the latest NHS figures show a record 5.6 million people in England are waiting for care.
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 hoped they will help doctors make earlier diagnoses for patients through more direct access to a full range of diagnostic tests.
They also aim to 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.
Some centres are already up and running, with others will open in the next six months, 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.”