American Express Community Stadium, the home of English Premier League football club Brighton & Hove Albion, has been named as one of three initial sites for 40 new Community Diagnostic Centres that will open across the country in an effort to address the backlog in healthcare appointments due to COVID-19.

The Government has announced that millions of patients will benefit from earlier diagnostic tests closer to home thanks to the Centres, which will be located in a range of settings – from football stadiums to local shopping centres.

The Amex Stadium Centre will be one of four across the local region serving a population of 1.7 million. The centres will provide additional MRI, CT, Ultrasound and X-ray services. The new one-stop-shops for checks, scans and tests will be backed by a £350m (€406.8m/$470.9m) investment from Government to provide around 2.8 million scans in the first full year of operation.

The Centres intend to help achieve earlier diagnoses for patients through easier, faster, and more direct access to the full range of diagnostic tests needed to understand patients’ symptoms including breathlessness, cancer and ophthalmology.

It is also hoped they will lead to a reduction in hospital visits, which will help to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission; along with a reduction in waits by diverting patients away from hospitals, allowing them to treat urgent patients, whilst the Community Diagnostic Centres focus on tackling the backlog.

The Centres will be staffed by a multi-disciplinary team of staff including nurses and radiographers and are set to be open seven days a week.

In its announcement today (Friday), the Government claims all cancer services are back to or above pre-pandemic levels with almost half a million people checked for cancer in June and July – among the highest numbers on record – while more than 50,000 people started treatment for cancer in the same period, a 32% increase on the same period last year.

It states the new Centres will continue to further level up access to vital cancer tests and other tests to tackle the backlogs that have built up during the pandemic. However, earlier this week a think tank warned that the NHS waiting list is likely to “grow significantly” after new research suggested that 7.5 million fewer people were referred for hospital care than expected during the pandemic.

The latest NHS figures state a record 5.6 million people in England are waiting for care. The Health Foundation’s report stated that there were 7.5 million less people referred for routine hospital care between January 2020 and July 2021 than would have been expected, based on numbers before COVID-19 struck.

Commenting on the new venture, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, said: “Tackling waiting lists will require new and more innovative ways of delivering the services people need. That is why we’re making it easier and more convenient to get checked.

“Our new Community Diagnostic Centres will bring those crucial tests closer to home including in the communities that need them most. They will help enable earlier diagnosis, allowing us to catch cancer and other issues as quickly as possible, and save more lives.”

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, added: “Rapid diagnosis will save lives and these one stop shops for checks, scans and tests in the heart of local communities will not only make services more accessible and convenient for patients but they will also help us to improve outcomes for patients with cancer and other serious conditions, ultimately sparing more patients and families the pain and trauma of disease.

“NHS staff have continued to provide routine care, throughout the pandemic, alongside treating around 450,000 seriously ill covid patients in hospital, and the roll-out of these community diagnostic centres will help us to spot problems sooner, when they are easier to treat.”

The Centres will begin providing services over the next six months, with some already up and running, and will be fully operational by March 2022.

In March, Brighton was given the green light to expand the capacity of Amex Stadium to 32,500.

Image: Gareth Williams/CC BY 2.0/Edited for size