Community Diagnostic Centres deliver 7 million tests since launch but still a ‘long way’ from goal

The SoR welcomes news CDCs have delivered over 7 million tests, but question their capacity to reach the promised 17 million by March 2025

Published: 15 March 2024 Government & NHS

The Society of Radiographers has welcomed the news that Community Diagnostic Centres across the UK have delivered more than 7 million diagnostic tests since launching in July 2021.

Government goals of 17 million checks, scans and tests carried out in these commuity settings by March 2025 are still a long way off however, the Society has warned.

The latest stats on the number of tests carried out in community centres, released by NHS England  on Thursday 14 March, revealed that there were a total of 2.3 million diagnostic tests carried out by the NHS in January 2024. Of these tests, around 194,000 (8.3 per cent) were carried out in Community Diagnostic centres.

This brings the total number of scans carried out in community settings to 7,457,005 since the initiative was launched in July 2021. 

If these Community Diagnostic Centres (CDCs) are to reach that 17 million target, their activity must increase by 6.5 per cent every single month between February 2024 and March 2025.

The average increase over the last three months has been 6.28 per cent.

'Chronically understaffed'

Dean Rogers, director of industrial strategy for the SoR, said: “This is quite a long way from the government’s goal.”

The Richards Report, an independent review of NHS diagnostics capacity, found that staffing these CDCs would require an additional 4,000 radiographers, 2,000 radiologists, and 500 advanced practitioners.

Mr. Rogers explained the CDCs budget included no funding to cover staffing costs, and so have been forced to draw on existing radiographers to fill posts.

“[This means] leaving hospital acute departments chronically understaffed as a result,” Mr. Rogers said. “Even an increase in the number of CDC scans will not lead to an overall increase in the number of scans carried out – it will simply mean that not as many scans are taking place in acute settings.”

Radiography workforce in crisis

Vacancy rates for Diagnostic Radiographers have risen from 12 per cent to 13 per cent in the last year. 

Mr. Rogers continued: “Technology will reduce the time it takes to interpret a scan, but not the time it takes to conduct one. For that, you still need radiographers delivering patient care.”

More than a million patients are currently waiting to see a radiographer. One in five patients (20 per cent) is now waiting at least six weeks to be seen by a member of the radiography workforce.   

“Without closing the gap between supply of staff and equipment and the known rise in demand, waiting lists will continue to grow,” Mr. Rogers said. “The government needs a serious and credible workforce plan to tackle recruitment and retention in the radiography workforce before the CDC programme can be said to be a success – regardless of how many centres it opens.”

Challenges and triumphs

There are currently 155 open CDCs in the UK, with five more set open before March 2025.

Health minister Andrew Stephensonsaid: “Diagnostic centres are playing a vital role in helping to cut waiting lists by delivering checks and scans to people who need them, helping reduce pressures faced by hospitals across the country. This is a key part of our long term plan to make the NHS faster, simpler and fairer for patients.

“Placing these centres in easy-to-reach locations, such as shopping centres and near football stadiums, means that people can get the support they need more quickly.”

Earlier this year, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Diagnostics’ “CDC’s Unveiled: Challenges and Triumphs” report found the scheme has been hampered by staff shortages, digital infrastructure, and choice of locations. 

The report added that locations are rarely “community-based,” and are often located on hospital estates.

(Image: Dean Rogers, via Eva Slusarek)