30 April 2024

Community-Based Testing: Easing Pressure, Improving Outcomes

Community-Based Testing: Easing Pressure, Improving Outcomes image
Image: Dragana Gordic / Shutterstock.com.

David Wells, chief executive of the Institute of Biomedical Science, discusses the advantages of diagnostics-driven healthcare innovation.

During winter, rising cases of infectious disease heap strain on primary care systems across Britain. Local councils and communities bear the brunt of this burden, facing increased service demand and spiralling care home costs. However, a promising solution lies within our grasp: community-based access to diagnostic testing.

The pandemic taught us the power of decentralised and novel access routes to healthcare delivery. By enabling rapid and point of care testing closer to home, we can not only alleviate pressure on primary care but also achieve better overall health outcomes for our communities, through earlier diagnostics and better management of those living with long term conditions.

Recent discussions convened by Abbott and The King's Fund underscored a consensus among a cross section of frontline healthcare leaders – our current model of care, especially during winter, is not sustainable. To move forward, we require enhanced collaboration, integrated digital systems, and more consistent health strategies to reduce inequalities.

A critical unmet need is accessible diagnostics of all types within the community. When individuals can access timely testing near home, they are more likely to follow optimal care pathways designed to keep them healthy and independent. This should include harnessing the expertise of laboratory professionals, including HCPC (Health & Care Professions Council) registered biomedical scientists, to advise on optimal testing strategies and interpret results – as this would ensure fewer hospitalisations and reduced strain on council resources.

Unfortunately, annual budget cycles and short-term planning often hinder the adoption of existing technologies that could bolster frontline care. A long-term strategic plan, with targeted investment, would empower Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) to deploy diagnostics and access to testing among pharmacists, community nurses, and health assistants – ultimately reducing hospital admissions and keeping more people thriving in the community.

ICBs need clear, patient-focused diagnostics strategies. Additionally, the potential for more central commissioning of certain services could prove transformative.

At a time when the Department of Health and Social Care has been consulting on the way that primary care healthcare incentives shape and drive improvements in the delivery of care, local councils have a pivotal role to play as agents of change. By championing community-based testing, councils can:

• Reduce strain on care homes: Early illness detection and intervention keeps residents healthier and reduces reliance on NHS services.

• Support a thriving workforce: Rapid testing ensures employees stay healthy or return to work safely at a time when a record number of people are off work due to ill health.

• Promote healthier communities: Accessible diagnostics empower individuals to manage their health proactively in line with government prevention and wellness strategies.

The benefits are undeniable. By strategically investing in community-based access to testing, councils can ease the burden on primary care, improve health outcomes within their communities, and build a more resilient and sustainable healthcare system for the future.

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