Scans for conditions like cancer may be available on the high street so as to catch cases early, under new plans from the NHS.
A reported 160 hubs could be put in place, where routine health checks would be performed. The plans would see the way that X-rays, CT and MRI scans are delivered overhauled completely, with capacity for scans doubling in the next five years, alongside recruitment of 6,000 extra specialist staff.
As well as scanning for conditions like heart disease and cancer, the hubs would also provide lung function tests, blood tests and endoscopy, eliminating the need for a hospital visit.
In bigger centres, pregnancy scans, mammograms, eye services, gynaecological services and hearing tests would be available.
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Offering a range of medical services
The hubs were presented as part of a report on diagnostic services to NHS England, with former cancer tsar, Professor Sir Mike Richards, explaining in the report that the hubs could work particularly well during the coronavirus pandemic, given patients may prefer to be treated away from hospitals "in a Covid-19 minimal hub."
The report also said that children's investigations could be carried out in the hubs, as long as there was thorough staff training.
Investigations for patients needing tests for prostate cancer and patients presenting with blood in the urine could also be carried out in the hubs.
Home or care home tests could be delivered by staff working in the centres, who could, for instance, bring mobile X-rays to patients at home.
The report recommended that emergency diagnostic services should be separated from planned services to increase efficiency.
"Acute diagnostic services (for A&E and inpatient care) should be improved so that patients who require CT scanning or ultrasound from A&E can be imaged without delay," it said.
"Inpatients needing CT or MRI should be able to be scanned on the day of request."
Diagnostic services reaching 'a tipping point'
The study said that pre-pandemic diagnostic services were already reaching "a tipping point", with more people being outsourced to private firms and fewer people seen within NHS targets.
Coronavirus has further tipped the scales, with a reported 20-fold increase in people facing long waiting times for diagnostic tests during lockdown.
By June, there were 580,000 waiting, compared with just 30,000 in February.
The study said, "The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the pre-existing problems in diagnostics
"The risk of infection to and from patients attending for diagnostic tests has slowed throughput in all aspects of diagnostics, but particularly in CT scanning and endoscopy.
"This is due to the need to deep clean equipment and facilities if a patient's Covid-19 status is positive or unknown.
"The backlog of patients waiting more than six weeks for diagnostics has increased very significantly since the start of the pandemic and now needs to be tackled as quickly as possible".
To help this problem, the report recommended community diagnostic hubs be "rapidly established to provide Covid-19 minimal, highly productive elective diagnostic centres for cancer, cardiac, respiratory and other conditions."
It added that CT scanning capacity should be expanded by 100 per cent over the next five years to meet increasing demand.
Recommendations also included a minimum of two CT scanners in hospitals with an A&E to keep those who are Covid-19 positive from those who are negative.