The pressure faced by diagnostic services is ever-growing. There is increasing attention on the achievement of RTT waiting times, faster cancer diagnostic standards and improving patient outcomes and so diagnostic services, such as imaging, endoscopy and pathology, are faced with playing their vital part in supporting the patient journey.
Over the past few years, we have seen the development of local formations of various diagnostic networks. The NHS Long Term Plan highlighted that alongside the established pathology networks, Imaging (radiology) networks will be in place across the country from 2023.
Locally these networks are forming, and in some areas, are already pressing forward with an agenda to work together to share capacity and expertise, in response to the growing demand across services. Significantly, they are starting to work collaboratively to scope solutions.
Through our work across diagnostic services – with systems, networks and at place level- we have seen that there are various areas that will form the basis to be able to work differently across providers to respond to demand. We have found that supporting change across the system is at the centre of making the most of diagnostic capacity, new ways of working and introducing innovation. Having a coordinated approach across the system is vital to implementing sustainable change and harnessing diagnostic capacity.
Our experiences have identified the following common enablers;
- Developing the workforce – local workforce strategy development, using new roles and creating posts that fill the ever-increasing gap
- Digital – increasing digital capability to share results and coordinate capacity
- Capacity management – providing a shared view, and joined up processes to maximise the capacity across local systems
- Flexibility – sharing expertise and knowledge across boundaries and staffing groups
- Equipment – knowing your current equipment availability and associated timeframes for replacement
- Partnership – working together to deliver change, and working differently across a system to meet demand together
Although these areas are common, within local health economies we are seeing that varying priorities and organisational form is creating a difference in pace against the delivery of networked solutions. With very recent recommendations placed on creating Rapid Diagnostic Services and achieving new targets the need to work together is greater than ever before, placing a real spotlight on the delivery of this agenda.
Where to start?
It may sound simple but creating a system-wide view of current capacity and demand allows the formation of clear local priorities, work programmes and next steps to be developed.
From our experience, it is very difficult to build a sustainable plan without knowing what your needs are right now, and what they will be in years to come. Having this agreed across members and using this as the basis to deliver change, places these networks in a position to deliver to the needs of local populations, and truly utilise their capacity to the best of its ability to the benefit of all involved.