• Monday, December 11, 2023


NHS fast-tracks heart and lung tests for one million patients

The number of people on waiting lists has reached an all-time high of 7.5 million

Representational image (iStock)

By: Pramod Thomas

AROUND one million people will get heart and lung tests under the new NHS scheme which plans to clear record waiting backlogs, The Telegraph reported.

The new plan allows GPs to refer more patients directly for checks for heart disease and common lung conditions without referring them to a specialist.

According to officials, the scheme would speed up access to life-saving treatment.

The number of people on waiting lists has reached an all-time high of 7.5 million. Over a third of them, who are awaiting heart tests, are experiencing delays of up to four months.

Data from the government’s Office for Health Improvement and Disparities revealed almost 100,000 excess deaths of patients with heart conditions happened since February 2020.

The new scheme with an investment of £2.3 billion allows patients with symptoms of heart and respiratory problems to test at ‘one-stop shops’ in local community diagnostic centres across England.

The plans will increase access to asthma tests, blood tests for identifying heart failure risks, and spirometry tests to diagnose lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the media report added.

In May, 36 per cent of heart patients waited at least 18 weeks for tests, after seeing a consultant, NHS figures revealed. More than 12,000 patients experienced delays of over a year, whereas only 28 patients faced similar waiting time before the initial lockdown.

“We know how important it is to diagnose people with conditions like heart failure, COPD and asthma early, so they can get the treatment they need to manage their condition well, and to prevent more serious conditions or illness from developing,” Dr Vin Diwakar, NHS medical director for secondary care and transformation, was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.

“Our plans to enhance GP direct access will enable thousands more to get a vital diagnosis sooner, and by capitalising on the additional capacity provided by over a hundred community diagnostic centres offering a ‘one stop shop’ for tests in the community, patients can benefit from convenient triaging and testing near their homes – and importantly, avoid a hospital admission or trip to A&E.”

Dr. Diwaker advised that if people are worried about potential symptoms of asthma or other respiratory issues like persistent cough, breathlessness, or wheezing, they should seek medical evaluation, especially before the winter season.

John Maingay, the director of policy and influencing at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), emphasised the significance of having an adequate number of NHS staff to conduct these tests and provide necessary treatments for patients. This is essential to tackle the continuously increasing backlog of time-critical heart care, he said.

NHS England claimed that the fast-track scheme introduced for cancer last year has sped up access for almost 80,000 patients

Prof Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said, “For this initiative to be successful, it is vital that diagnostic capacity – both in terms of testing, and people to conduct and interpret tests – is sufficient, and that there is close co-ordination and clear communication between GP practices and secondary care teams.”

She, however, appealed to support general practice, which is working under intense workload and workforce pressure.

Dr Kieran Sharrock, acting chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee in England, expressed concerns about the approach taken by NHS England to address winter pressure demands.

Dr Sharrock mentioned that fast-tracked diagnostic referrals come with the expectation that GPs will perform additional complex investigations that are not typically part of their regular services.

However, NHSE has not provided any information on how the already overstretched GPs will manage the extra workload involved, he said.

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