NHS sets out models for new imaging networks

New guidance outlines seven potential models including outsourcing

Published: 26 May 2021 Government & NHS

NHS ENGLAND is directing NHS trusts and foundation trusts that provide their own imaging services to come together to create imaging networks that each have their own identity, operating model, ‘brand’ and potentially separate legal status.

New guidance outlines seven potential models (see below) for running the new diagnostic imaging networks, which aim to revolutionise the delivery of imaging services from 2023. One of the models is to outsource the network to a third party, which ‘has advantages including access to economies of scale, and disadvantages including the loss of direct control of operations’.

An image-sharing platform will be introduced to enable all digital images acquired within the network to be managed via a single shared worklist and transferred for reporting to any site in the network or beyond.

The guidance states that because they will be significant operating businesses in their own right, ‘a clear structure for both ownership and operation of the imaging network is essential’.

Trusts are advised that ‘staff are more likely to be equally and significantly engaged if they can identify a common loyalty to a new “brand” and an operational management structure distinct from existing arrangements in their individual trusts’.

The networks will be expected to ‘maximise the benefits of pooling the reporting workforce by making economies of scale and improving access to specialist opinion, while individual sites continue to image patients close to where they live’.

The guidance was developed in consultation with the SoR, the Royal College of Radiologists and the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine.

The SoR supports the overall strategic approach to the modernisation of imaging services, proposed in the NHS Long Term Plan of 2019 as a means of improving access for patients.

The Society said: ‘We recognise the concerns of members when this document is read as standalone. However, the SoR, as a professional body and a trade union, has a unique position in supporting members during implementation.

‘The SoR does not support any move that takes members away from NHS terms and conditions. To address the concerns raised by some members, the SoR does not support the privatisation of NHS imaging services.

‘Each region or network might seek a different model and the SoR supports network development being retained within the NHS, and also seeks assurance that the implementation of network configurations focuses on an NHS model of governance. The Joint Colleges Quality Standard for Imaging is developing network standards to ensure service quality is maintained, governance is robust and unwarranted variations reduced.’

SoR CEO Richard Evans added: ‘Anyone working in imaging knows the service faces pressure due to workforce shortages and escalating demand. The UK lags comparable nations in diagnostic provision and outcomes for our patients are inevitably affected.

‘As long-awaited work gets under way to train more radiographers, assistant practitioners, radiologists and physicists, the imaging networks strategy for England should provide some capacity for the growth in capacity to start. Any “economy of scale” that can be found is about better services for patients. The SoR will stay closely involved in further consultations and implementation.’

Click here to read the guidance and the full NHS England strategy.

The seven potential network models

  • Collaboration across two or more organisations with a single operational management team.
  • Alliance contracting.
  • Unit organisation hosted by one NHS secondary healthcare provider.
  • Joint venture – limited liability partnership (LLP). 
  • Joint venture – limited company.
  • Community interest company (CIC)
  • Outsourcing.