Health & Lifestyle

Major change to GP appointments as up to a million patients will be offered fast-track heart and lung tests under plans to combat record NHS backlog

Major change to GP appointments as up to a million patients will be offered fast-track heart and lung tests under plans to combat record NHS backlog

  • GPs will be able to refer patients to hospitals or community diagnostic centres
  • Up to 1 million patients could benefit from the accelerated access, officials said

Hundreds of thousands of patients could have heart and respiratory issues diagnosed earlier thanks to fast-tracked tests.

The NHS has announced plans to speed up the detection of major health issues by allowing GPs to send their patients directly for checks.

This includes tests for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as 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, officials said.

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

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, officials said

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, officials said

The initiative, which is already in place for cancer, has provided quicker access to tests for almost 80,000 people who may not meet the 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 breath 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 move also has the potential to help NHS staff to continue to reduce covid backlogs that have inevitably built up.

Dr Vin Diwakar, medical director for secondary care and transformation at NHS England, 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.’

Sarah MacFadyen, head of policy and external affairs at Asthma + Lung UK, added: ‘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.’

It comes as NHS officials also announced the creation of a one-stop shop so hospitals in England can find companies which are able to help them get medically fit patients out of hospital beds.

The 12 companies listed can help with a number of services including discharging patients, while some can also help find suitable care for patients outside of hospital.

What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) describes a group of lung conditions that cause the airways to narrow and become inflamed.

Examples include bronchitis, which affects the airways, and emphysema, which impacts the air sacs. 

This makes it harder to move air in and out as you breathe.

Around 1.2million people in the UK are diagnosed with COPD, British Lung Foundation statistics show. 

And in the US, 16million people suffer from COPD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

It usually develops due to long-term damage to the lungs from smoking or air pollution.

Jobs where people are exposed to fumes, dust and chemicals also raise the risk. 

COPD also seems to run in families.

And a rare genetic condition called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency makes people susceptible at a very young age.  

Symptoms include:

  • Breathlessness during day-to-day activities, like walking
  • Persistent cough
  • Wheezing in cold weather
  • Producing excess phlegm

In severe cases, sufferers lose their appetite, have swollen ankles, lose weight and may even cough up blood. 

COPD is incurable and the damage to the lungs cannot be reversed. 

However, treatments can help make breathing easier. 

Patients should also quit smoking and maintain a healthy weight. 

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