Since 2018, we have been working with NHS clinical leads to build a national strategy for imaging networks using the data we have collected to construct a picture of NHS imaging services across England.
Our data shows high vacancy rates across imaging services and ageing imaging equipment, which coupled with rising demand, is putting extreme pressure on delivering timely imaging services and providing high-quality patient care. The data also shows unwarranted variation between trusts in both pay and non-pay costs.
By bringing together clinical expertise through a networking model, we can reduce unwarranted variation, provide better quality care, better value services for patients and give NHS staff the opportunity to develop their careers. We can also deliver financial efficiencies, which can be reinvested into imaging services to ensure their sustainability.
This strategy complements the recently awarded £200m of capital funding dedicated to improving the quality of diagnostic imaging equipment to support cancer screening and speed up diagnosis. This is a step towards achieving the NHS Long Term Plan objective of diagnosing three quarters of cancers at an early stage by 2028 through improved screening processes.
This forms part of the implementation of Lord Carter’s 2016 review into unwarranted variation in English NHS acute hospitals and is the first step to reducing unwarranted variation and delivering better quality, better value imaging services for patients, a key NHS Long Term Plan commitment.
- Further benefits to patients include:
- services are sustained locally, so patients can have their scans locally, but they can be reported anywhere there is the expertise, which means access to specialist opinion across a much wider geography
- faster turnaround times for reports after having their test, which reduces anxiety and uncertainty for patients while waiting for their test results
- reduced risk of missed diagnosis as all images will be reported by a suitably trained clinician as well as having opportunities to share with specialists to obtain their sub specialist opinion
- images and other test results (eg digital pathology) will all be available to the clinician at the point of treatment, reducing multiple visits for treatment and reducing the number of out-patient visits.
- patients will start their treatment earlier due to more rapid diagnosis, which gives them better outcomes and reduces uncertainty about the next steps on their care pathway
- developing a capital asset plan for replacement equipment across an imaging network will ensure the oldest equipment is prioritised for replacement and patients have access to state-of-the-art equipment, which reduces scan times, reduces radiation dose and produces the highest quality images for diagnoses
Implementation of the networking model will be done in two phases. Phase one is to create 24 networks by 2022. Phase two will move towards consolidating to 18 imaging networks by 2023.
This imaging strategy is endorsed by the National Imaging Optimisation Delivery Board, which includes key stakeholders including clinicians, as well as representatives of the Royal College of Radiologists and the Society and College of Radiographers.