A review commissioned by the NHS recommended rapidly evaluating new diagnostic technologies, among other steps aimed at dealing with a backlog of testing exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic

The report commissioned by NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens made several recommendations to improve diagnostic testing (Credit: PixaBay)

An independent review of diagnostic capabilities within the NHS has led to the recommendation that new technologies in the field be rapidly evaluated to meet testing demand for severe illnesses.

These innovations could potentially include new point-of-care tests, liquid biopsies to diagnose cancer earlier and the use of artificial intelligence, both to identify people at high risk of different conditions, and to aid interpretation of images and complex diagnostic data.

Alongside innovations like these, the report that came out of the review recommended that virtual consultations and the setting up of community diagnostic hubs should be promoted to keep visits to acute hospital sites to a minimum.

Independent Review of Diagnostic Services for NHS England chair Professor Sir Mike Richards CBE said: “The pandemic has brought into sharper focus the need to overhaul the way our diagnostic services are delivered.

“While these changes will take time and investment in facilities and more staff, it is the right moment to seize the opportunities to assist recovery and renewal of the NHS.

diagnostic technologies
Independent Review of Diagnostic Services for NHS England chair Professor Sir Mike Richards CBE (Credit: Nuffield Trust)

“Not only will these changes make services more accessible and convenient for patients but they will help improve outcomes for patients with cancer and other serious conditions.”

According to the report, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing problems in diagnostics, as the risk of infection from the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease has slowed throughput in all aspects of diagnostics, but particularly in regards to CT scanning and endoscopy.

Major expansion of diagnostic capacity was already clearly identified as being needed before the pandemic.

But the report said without this expansion, many of the NHS Long-Term Plan commitments on cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory diseases and other
conditions, and on the reform of same-day emergency care and outpatient services,
would be jeopardised.

The review of diagnostic capabilities was commissioned by NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens.


BIVDA supports recommendations for diagnostic reforms and improved technologies

The British In Vitro Diagnostics Association (BIVDA) lent its support to recommendations in the report carried out under Richards, after previously drawing attention to the backlog of diagnostic needs mounting up while hospital capacity is taken up by the pandemic.

BIVDA chief operating officer Helen Dent said: “Diagnostics, and IVDs in particular have a key role to play in getting the NHS back to full strength, identifying conditions and treating patients, while at the same time coping with the ongoing pandemic.

“In particular, we broadly support the idea of community diagnostic hubs, where patients will be able to get their tests done without having to visit hospital – we know that fear of catching Covid-19 in medical settings is deterring people from seeking treatment, and this will help ensure patients can access care in what they consider a safe environment.”

In its previous statement on the backlog of diagnostic test demand, BIVDA highlighted innovation, manufacturing and people as three key areas that need investment.

After reviewing NHS diagnostic capabilities, the report likewise identified the training of new staff and replacing of obsolete equipment as priorities, alongside the investment needed to rapidly evaluate new technologies.