GPs in England are to be given greater powers to fast-track testing in a bid to help diagnose and treat patients with heart and breathing problems more quickly.
Under the plans, doctors will be able to directly order diagnostic checks for some conditions without needing to go via a consultant.
Patients with symptoms of asthma, cardiovascular disease, heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease will be referred to hospital or community diagnostic centres.
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 100 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.”
It is hoped the initiative will ease pressure on the health service in the run up to winter.
A similar system is already in place for cancer, which the NHS said has provided faster access for 80,000 patients who may not meet the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance threshold for an urgent referral.
John Maingay, director of policy and influencing at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Many people are facing extremely long waits for heart care in England, and improving access to vital diagnostic blood tests could help more people receive a diagnosis of heart failure sooner.
“However, it’s important that there are enough NHS staff in place to deliver these tests and any treatment that patients may need in order to address the ever-growing backlog of time-critical heart care.”