Creaking NHS in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes region feels the strain of proposed new local diagnostic hubs

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Whole communities across the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes region are not being effectively served by diagnostic services but NHS chiefs are struggling to find solutions, a meeting heard.

NHS and local council leaders from across Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes (BLMK) were told that chiefs in Whitehall are pressing for the creation of local diagnostic hubs in addition to hospital services but this is a “massive ask”.

Bedford hospital’s Dr James Ramsay, the clinical cancer lead at BLMK, is also leading work on creating the new hubs.

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He told the BLMK partnership board on Wednesday that demand for diagnostic services in cancer, stroke and heart disease already “outstrips demand”.

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And he referred to “poor population outcomes” with his report calling for “new models of care for earlier diagnosis” to reduce health inequalities, increase life expectancy and prevent early death.

“Patients are telling us of fragmented journeys, having to wait a long time to get results, their fears of covid and that there doesn’t seem to be a coordinated approach,” the report said.

Part of the thinking is that if diagnostic services are created in the community more people will feel confident about them, especially as it could allow them to be seen closer to home and away from the fear of covid in hospitals.

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Dr Ramsay’s report added that “primary and community care organisations will need to rise to the challenge of providing care closer to home”.

But this is posing a challenge as clinicians are worn out by the pandemic.

And at the same time staff are being “asked to embrace new models of care at a time when ‘resetting’ the system is a key priority.

“A key measure of success will be handling change in a demanding environment which is unprecedented with a backdrop of an embedded culture resistant to change,” his report read.

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Some members of the board expressed concerns about the scale of the changes with Simon Linnett, who chairs the Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust, saying a “lot more conversation is needed”.

But Dr Ramsay said a team to lead the work was still “work in progress” and asked the board to throw its support behind what he had to do.

“That needs to be progressed at pace because the timelines are very tight. It needs project management support to enable me to do that,” he said.

Dr Ramsay said BLMK has received £166,000 out of a national pot of £3 billion to plan the new services.

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Mr Linnett added: “It’s a national issue and the national team are driving this quite hard. We need to hold the mirror up to them and say how much of this is realistic.”

Dr Ramsay’s report was accepted by the board and he added that he wanted to avoid a case where “everybody scrabbles for money and actually the system’s not ready to deliver.”