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NHS IT gets £250m cash injection to help tackle backlog

by Jess Hacker
8 November 2021

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The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has allocated £248m to digitise diagnostic services to improve how tests and results are shared between practices, hospitals and labs, it has said.

The funding is an attempt to tackle the growing backlog for care – which currently sits at 5.7 million people – by cutting the time it takes to diagnose a health problem.

In its announcement today (8 November), the DHSC said the money is intended to reduce the administrative burden on NHS staff so they can do more tests and shorten the turnaround time between receiving a diagnosis and starting treatment.

It also said it will introduce a tool to help GPs choose ‘the most suitable scan’ for their patient based on their symptoms and medical history, cutting ‘inappropriate’ requests made to radiologists.

The updates are based on the recommendations made during Professor Sir Mike Richards’ independent review of NHS diagnostics capacity, published last November.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said the funding – which has come from the 2020 spending review – will help healthcare professionals ‘get their job done more easily’ while ‘reducing unnecessary administrative burden’.

The cash injection comes in the wake of NHS England’s widely criticised GP winter access plan: a document which was described as ‘punitive and damaging’, notably for its proposal to take ‘immediate’ action against the 20% of practices with the lowest face-to-face appointment levels.

The BMA’s GP committee went on to advise practices ‘not to engage’ with the plan.

The only reference made to the backlog in the plan came in its acknowledgement that general practice ‘has the critical job of catching up on the backlog of care for patients on its registered list who have ongoing conditions, to avoid acute episodes or exacerbations that may otherwise result in avoidable hospital admissions or even premature mortality’.

Last week, NHSE leaders said practices should take the £250m winter access fund as a ‘real recognition’ of the pressure on GPs.