Leading the way to improved diagnostic testing

Dr Ash Bassi and Liz Bishop
Dr Ash Bassi and Liz Bishop

Some significant improvements have been made to a wide number of medical or ‘diagnostic’ tests during NHS Cheshire and Merseyside’s first year, which are reducing waiting times, leading to quicker results and making services easier to access for our patients.

We are one of the few integrated care boards, established in July 2022, that has a dedicated programme for diagnostics. We are working together with our partners across Cheshire and Merseyside to look at over 100 tests - from MRI and CT scans, to echocardiographies, or ‘ECGs’ and gastroscopies - to see how they can be improved and better provided to our patients now and in the future.

The programme is split to five overarching areas, bringing together a wide range of experts in these different specialisms:

  • Cheshire and Merseyside Endoscopy Network
  • Community Diagnostic Centres
  • Cheshire and Merseyside Pathology Network
  • Cheshire and Merseyside Physiological Measurements Network
  • Cheshire and Merseyside Radiology Imaging Network

How does this improve services for patients?

In its first year, our programme has secured some great achievements for our patients and in making our diagnostic services fit for the future.

We have made good progress in reducing the backlog of patients waiting for a diagnostic test caused by COVID-19. Overall, 109,000 tests are carried out each month, representing 18% growth compared to the previous 12 months. Our aim is to reduce waiting times to and improving on pre-pandemic standards.

We have opened seven Community Diagnostic Centres, with two more due to open in 2023 across Cheshire and Merseyside, making it much more convenient for patients to access the tests they need. Our centres are testing more patients than nearly all others across the country and these numbers are set to increase further, from 150,000 tests in 2022-2023 to an estimated 340,000 in 2023-2024. By maximising the use of digital technologies, results from tests at the centres are available quicker, supporting more timely diagnosis for patients.

We have seen a number of innovations through our Radiology Imaging Network that are linking up systems across different sites, so results can be more easily shared, making diagnosis much faster and reducing the need to rescan patients, which often happened previously.

We have made some important investments during the year. All hospitals now have two CT scanners so services are more resilient and can scan more people. Funding to improve buildings has made bowel cancer screening equitable, so it is now provided in areas of Cheshire and Merseyside where there was previously no service.

What's next?

Our programme to improve diagnostic testing is continuous and we are aiming for even greater achievements in our second year.

Some early work includes looking at how we can increase endoscopy testing across Cheshire and Merseyside, along with streamlining systems between GP practices and pathology laboratories to provide quicker test results.

Find out more

Here are some examples of the difference our programme is making in just one of our five areas of work through our Cheshire and Merseyside Radiology Imaging Network (CAMRIN):

Transforming diagnostics – ‘the first piece in the jigsaw’

A new podcast explores the impact of changes to the way diagnostic tests and screening are carried out in Cheshire and Merseyside.

A system-wide transformation programme has resulted in many more tests being carried out in more centres around the region.

The Innovation Agency podcast features Liz Bishop and Dr Ash Bassi. Liz is Chief Executive of The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust; lead for the Cheshire and Merseyside Diagnostic Transformation Programme; and Senior Responsible Officer for Cheshire and Merseyside Cancer Alliance.

Dr Ash Bassi is Consultant Gastroenterologist and Divisional Medical Director at Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust; Clinical Lead for the Cheshire and Merseyside Endoscopy Network; and North West Transformation Lead for Endoscopy.

Listen here.