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Two new Rapid Diagnosis Centres will improve services for cancer patients

The Department of Health has announced the opening of two specialist clinics to help reduce the time for cancer diagnosis and improve patient outcomes.

The Rapid Diagnosis Centres (RDCs) - the first of their kind in Northern Ireland – are being launched at Whiteabbey Hospital and Dungannon’s South Tyrone Hospital. The clinics are providing a new pathway for cancer treatment and are a key part of the Department’s 10 year Cancer Strategy published in March.

As part of a pilot programme, GPs in the Armagh and Dungannon and East Antrim areas are now able to refer patients into the RDCs. The centres will receive referrals for patients with non-specific but concerning symptoms which may lead to a diagnosis of cancer, but which do not meet the criteria of other red flag cancer pathways. 

Over the coming year the sites will expand to accept referrals from GPs across the whole of Northern Ireland.  They aim to reduce the time to diagnosis and improve overall patient experience.

Patients referred to the RDCs will receive co-ordinated examination and investigations based on their needs in a one-stop environment with rapid reporting of results. With the consent of the patient, the RDC clinician will make an onward referral to the appropriate specialty for all patients who require further investigation or treatment.

Department of Health Permanent Secretary Peter May said:

“This an important step forward in our ability to diagnose those harder to identify cancers, and is a key action set out in the Department’s Cancer Strategy.  Most importantly, there is the opportunity to diagnose more people sooner and to improve both patient experience and outcomes.

“I am delighted to see these centres opening for patients after much hard work by all involved, and I look forward to their expansion over the next year.”

Heather Monteverde , Department of Health Professional Advisor, said:

“We know that new approaches are needed to improve diagnostic pathways. If changes are not made, waiting times will continue to deteriorate, resulting in poorer outcomes.

“This new development will offer GPs access to a fast-track clinic for people who present with vague, undifferentiated symptoms which the GP suspects could be cancer. They will not only provide a better diagnostic service for patients and GPs, but will also be more efficient.”

Kevin McMahon, Director of Surgical and Clinical services in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust said:

“This is a really welcome development supporting Trust teams to work with GPs to provide an early diagnosis for patients with vague but concerning symptoms that do not fit into any of the existing referral pathways. 

“Whilst this is initially for the local East Antrim population we look forward to expanding this service to a much wider population in the near future.”

Chief Executive of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust, Dr Maria O’Kane said:

“South Tyrone Hospital is an essential part of the Southern Trust acute hospital network.

“We are absolutely delighted that the hospital and our committed team will be involved in this innovative new regional pilot, helping to improve waiting times,  enhancing the patient experience and potentially achieving the best possible outcomes for more local people.”

The former Health Minister Robin Swann launched the new 10 year Cancer Strategy in March 2022. The new Strategy sets out 60 high-level actions that will enable significant strategic changes to be taken forward over the next decade.

The strategy was developed by adopting a co-production approach and brought together people with lived experience of cancer, cancer charities, healthcare professionals from across all Health and Social Care Trusts, the Public Health Agency (PHA), the former Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), Primary Care, and policy teams.

During the launch of the Cancer Strategy, the then Health Minister Robin Swann also announced the development of Rapid Diagnosis Centres to be operational before the end of the year. Action 15 of the Strategy was: develop new pathways and diagnostic services to improve diagnosis.

The introduction of centralised diagnosis hubs will be initially for people with vague but concerning symptoms, but then potentially expanded to include those with a red flag referral for cancer. This has the potential to reduce the number of GP, hospital consultant and diagnostic appointments and significantly speed up diagnosis.


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