26th May 2021
Delivering community diagnostic services during COVID-19
Peter Sharpe, Chief Executive – Cobalt Health
Cobalt Health was established in 1964 as a medical charity to support local cancer services in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Today Cobalt provides more than just funding support to the NHS, offering services including advanced imaging equipment, funded nursing and research posts in addition to oncology services throughout the United Kingdom. Through investment in innovation, Cobalt has formed partnerships with manufacturers such as Siemens Healthineers to facilitate NHS access to new technology.
Community-based lung screening
Early detection of cancer to avoid end-stage diagnosis has been a focus of the NHS for some time. A pilot lung screening programme in 2016 was shown to quadruple early diagnosis rates, and earlier cancer diagnosis for improved survival rates was a central focus of the NHS’ Long Term Plan1.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, and the release of Professor Sir Mike Richards’ Diagnostics: Recovery and Renewal report in 2020, the approach to the provision of diagnostic services continues to evolve. The Manchester Lung Health Check programme is just one example of the services Cobalt is supporting by bringing diagnostic facilities into the community setting.
Delivering community-based services during a pandemic
Cobalt launched the Manchester Lung Health Checks in partnership with Siemens Healthineers and the Manchester NHS Foundation Trust in April 2019. Just a year after its launch, the service had carried out almost 9,000 lung health checks and 4,555 low dose CT scans.
However, in March 2020, as COVID-19 struck the UK, lung screening services were suspended, and Cobalt’s mobile CT units were redeployed to support the NHS.
The influx of COVID-19 patients dramatically increased demand for CT provision, and as Cobalt returned to Manchester with 2,000 follow up scans to complete, a markedly different lung screening service went into play. Telephone consultations now determine the necessity for CT scanning and where this is so, patients attend appointments ready to be scanned.
Asymptomatic testing ensuring service continuity
Following the re-launch of the Manchester Lung Health Checks, Cobalt reinstated similar services around the country, implementing strict health and safety measures including reduced staff presence at community sites. Temperature testing was introduced ahead of national recommendations and rapid asymptomatic antigen testing began in early 2021.
The implementation of the CLINITEST® Rapid COVID-19 Antigen Test provides reassurance to employees delivering services throughout the country – enabling staff to confidently work alongside colleagues, treat patients, and return home to their families.
To date, Cobalt has delivered approximately 1,600 tests, identified one positive case, and sustained support to the NHS and the communities they serve, with 98% regular testing uptake by all staff.
Establishing community-based services to transform the future of healthcare
As the first commissioned lung screening service in the UK, Manchester’s Lung Health Checks have served as a model for community-based lung screening programmes around the country.
Today, Cobalt provides accessible low dose CT for five Lung Health Check programmes, reducing pressure on local diagnostic facilities, and minimising unnecessary hospital visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar services deployed within community settings throughout the UK could transform diagnostic pathways, improving care delivery and enhancing the patient experience – providing consistent and accessible diagnostic services outside the traditional hospital setting.