The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) has strongly welcomed news of dedicated funding to improve radiology IT and streamline scan referrals into English hospitals.
Today (8 November), the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) revealed that over the next year £248m of recently announced departmental funding will be spent improving digital connectivity across diagnostic services, with a major focus on imaging.
Funding has been earmarked to improve digital integration between computer systems involved in diagnostic pathways, as well as boosting remote radiology reporting capacity.
A portion of the money is also paying for an initial wave1 of English hospital trusts and GP surgeries to use the RCR’s iRefer Clinical Decision Support system, created in partnership with medical software experts MedCurrent. The tool incorporates the RCR’s iRefer guidelines – a comprehensive, routinely updated series of clinical guidelines which help GPs and other referrers determine the best type of scan to request for a patient – into a integrated software package used to request hospital scans.
Pilot programmes have shown that the software cuts unnecessary requests for scans in busy emergency departments by at least 15%.
RCR President Dr Jeanette Dickson said:
“Today’s Government announcement on initial funding to improve connectivity across radiology services and roll out access to the RCR’s iRefer tool is both immensely timely – coming on the International Day of Radiology – and welcome.
“Various NHS-commissioned reports have recommended the use of iRefer to help speed up referrals and vetting and ensure patients have the right imaging test first time round. We know our clinical decision support tool works, and it is fantastic news that GPs and trusts across England will soon be able to access it.
“Meanwhile, stretched hospital imaging teams are continuing to work through scanning backlogs, and the number of patients facing long waits in England is rising again due to staffing constraints and the onset of winter pressures.
“We are extremely pleased DHSC is taking steps to support hospitals to buy in integrated radiology IT solutions and remote reporting capacity. Better IT connectivity will be crucial to the success and roll out of imaging networks and community diagnostic centres and will undoubtedly help teams work smarter, and – where possible – work through backlogs faster by supporting out-of-hours reporting and access to a specialist opinion. However, funding iRefer and improved IT connectivity alone will not solve the radiology workforce shortfall.”
- Rollout of the iRefer CDS is being overseen by NHS Digital, with plans for up to 44 trusts to be given access in 2021-22 – depending on system readiness and local financing - with the rest of England to follow by 2023.