Plans are being drawn up to transform the way that care is delivered across North Wales.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is developing plans to ensure that patients receive earlier diagnosis and treatment, amid a growing backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of a long-term plan for delivering elective care, the Health Board is exploring the possibility of establishing new Diagnostic and Treatment Centres to provide outpatient appointments, diagnostic tests and day surgery.
The centres would help ensure that patients receive earlier diagnosis and treatment, with fewer postponements because of pressures in unscheduled care.
They would also provide a tangible economic benefit by significantly reducing the reliance on the private sector and NHS providers in England to treat North Wales patients.
It is hoped that the plans will lead to the introduction of new clinical roles that will improve the recruitment and retention of staff.
Many organisations across the U.K have introduced diagnostic and treatment centres. The approach has recently been adopted in south Wales, where centres are used predominantly for cancer services.
The Health Board is in the early stages of exploring a number of options, and a Strategic Outline Business Case is expected to be discussed by the Board in January 2021.
The transformational project would require a multi-million pound investment from the Welsh Government. If approved, it is not expected to be operational until 2023.
In the meantime, short to medium-term solutions are being explored to help tackle a growing backlog of people waiting over 36 weeks for planned care.
As of the end of September 2020, the number of people in North Wales waiting over 36 weeks for planned care had increased to over 40,000.
The Health Board is exploring introducing modular buildings away from acute hospital sites, from which diagnostic tests, endoscopies and day case surgery can be performed.
This would provide a more COVID-19 secure environment for staff and patients, and support the introduction of a new model of care, which can be scaled up in future with the introduction of larger Diagnostic and Treatment Centres.
Gill Harris, Acting Chief Executive at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on planned care and we fully recognise just what a worrying time this is for people who are waiting for treatment.
“In the short to medium term, we are looking at performing more outpatient appointments and theatres activity over the evenings and weekends. We are also hoping for the modular buildings to be in place by January to boost our capacity to provide planned care.
“In the longer term, the proposed Diagnostic and Treatment Centres would provide a platform for the future, enabling us to tackle backlogs, alleviate pressure on our District General Hospitals and treat highly vulnerable patients without interruption from pressures in unscheduled care or further COVID-19 surges.”
Mark Polin, Chair of BCUHB, added: “This is a transformational project that will deliver significant benefits for the NHS and for people across the region.
“The introduction of Diagnostic and Treatment Centres would enable us to keep more clinical activity within the NHS in North Wales – ensuring significant long term economic benefits and helping to boost our staff recruitment and retention.”
BCUHB has continued to provide urgent care and treatment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, although many routine appointments and treatments were postponed.
Many of the services that had been put on hold have now restarted, although the way they are now running has been altered to accommodate social distancing measures. A comprehensive update on this can be found on the BCUHB website here: https://bcuhb.nhs.wales/covid-19/services-operating-during-covid-19/