NHS to speed up diagnosis and treatment of respiratory and heart conditions

Hundreds of thousands of patients could benefit from a quicker diagnosis for a range of respiratory and heart conditions, through ambitious new NHS plans for fast-tracked tests and checks.

As part of measures announced by the NHS today to speed up detection of major health problems, GP practices will be able to directly order diagnostic checks to identify a wide range of conditions, including COPD, asthma, cardiovascular disease and heart failure.

Up to one million patients could benefit from the accelerated access, reducing the need for a specialist consultation and speeding up potentially life-saving treatment and medication for patients.

The additional route for testing could also help ease pressure throughout the busier winter when demand is highest and respiratory illnesses are more prevalent.

The initiative, already in place for cancer, has provided quicker access to tests for almost 80,000 people who may not meet the NICE guidance threshold for an urgent cancer referral.

GPs will be able to refer patients with symptoms of heart and respiratory problems for various checks at their local hospital or local community diagnostic centre, which provides a one stop shop for scans and tests.

As well as diagnostic checks, ‘one stop shops’ can provide FeNO testing for asthma, blood tests to identify people at high-risk of heart failure and spirometry testing which can help diagnose lung conditions, including COPD.

By freeing up consultants’ time, the new move also has the potential to help NHS staff to continue to reduce covid backlogs that have inevitably built up.

Medical Director for Secondary Care and Transformation, Dr Vin Diwakar, said: “We know how important it is to diagnose people with conditions like heart failure, COPD and asthma early, so they can get the treatment they need to manage their condition well, and to prevent more serious conditions or illness from developing.

“Our plans to enhance GP direct access will enable thousands more to get a vital diagnosis sooner, and by capitalising on the additional capacity provided by over a hundred community diagnostic centres offering a ‘one stop shop’ for tests in the community, patients can benefit from convenient triaging and testing near their homes – and importantly, avoid a hospital admission or trip to A&E.

“NHS staff are already making significant progress in reducing the covid backlogs, and this efficient way of testing, can potentially help us to reduce that even further.

“As ever, if people are concerned they may have symptoms of asthma or other respiratory symptoms such as persistent cough, breathlessness, wheezing then please do get checked out, particularly ahead of the winter months.”

Minister of State for Health Will Quince said: “Cutting waiting times is one of this government’s five top priorities and by speeding up access to tests for major conditions, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, we can ensure patients get quicker diagnosis and treatment.

“We’ve already seen the benefits this can bring when it comes to cancer and, by expanding these initiatives to other conditions, we can ease some of the pressures that build up on the NHS in the winter months.

“In addition, our forthcoming Major Conditions Strategy will go even further in improving care for those living with the conditions eligible for access to these fast-tracked tests.”

Sarah MacFadyen, Head of Policy and External Affairs at Asthma + Lung UK: “We know that too many people with lung conditions, especially those experiencing higher levels of deprivation, are waiting too long to get a diagnosis and the support they need.

“That’s why these measures to speed up diagnosis and improve access to tests are a welcome step forward. And our latest report also shows that we still need more provision of diagnostic tests like spirometry across the country in primary care, as well as in community diagnostic centres.

“We are looking forward to working with NHS England so that everyone with symptoms of breathlessness has access to the tests they need.”