Nightingale hospitals will be converted into cancer testing centres in a bid to cope with a backlog in suspected cases, the head of the health service has said.
Sir Simon Stevens said a “radically different” model of testing would be introduced in an attempt to deal with a high volume of patients awaiting tests.
Cancer charities have raised fears this year could see an extra 18,000 deaths from the disease, because of the number of patients who received a later diagnosis, because of the covid crisis.
On Tuesday, Sir Simon said measures would be taken to tackle the backlog, starting with the conversion of the Exeter Nightingale site, from Monday.
The chief executive of the NHS told the Commons Health committee: “It’s worth remembering that four fifths of the patients who are on a waiting list are typically waiting for a test or an outpatient appointment, rather than waiting to be admitted to hospital for an operation.
“And given the pressures on hospitals and diagnostic teams are over the March, April, May period, there has been a big a big reduction in the flow of patients through those diagnostic services.”
“We’ve got to do something different,” he told MPs.
“We’ve got to expand diagnostic capacity. We’ve also got to do it in new ways,” he said, suggesting some of the new types of models of testing, such as tests used to diagnose bowel cancer, would be “radically different”.
The new model would mean that dedicated testing facilities were running multiple sessions daily, to ensure far more tests can be carried out, he said, with more use of new types of checks.
Sir Simon said the NHS would be “taking a Nightingale type approach” to the new dedicated diagnostic centres – starting next week.
“The first of those is going to be the Exeter Nightingale which we are going to partly repurpose for non-Covid CT scanning that will begin next Monday and run 8 till 8 and seven days a week. So yes, this is an opportunity and a necessity, quite frankly to do something quite different in diagnostics,” he said.