Multiple pharmacy Boots is in talks with “partners” over “repurposing” its properties to become community diagnostic centres, the director of healthcare has said.
Community diagnostic centres were first proposed in November 2020 in an NHS England-commissioned review of diagnostic services across the country as a way to “increase and optimise diagnostic capacity”.
Sir Mike Richards, who chaired the review, suggested in his report that the centres operate away from acute trusts and provide imaging, cardiorespiratory, phlebotomy and endoscopy facilities “as a minimum”.
Speaking at an All-Party Parliamentary Health Group meeting on 8 March 2022, Asif Aziz, director of healthcare at Boots, said the multiple has “a strong ambition to expand our current pharmacy offering beyond pharmacy and broadly into healthcare to support the elective backlog the NHS faces”.
As part of this ambition, Aziz said Boots believes it can “play a bigger role” in diagnostic services, “particularly phlebotomy”.
“We believe we can play a greater role in health checks as well,” he said. “We believe we have the accessibility and the capabilities to support [that].
“But we wouldn’t want to stop there. We’re also in conversation with certain partners to look at community diagnostic centres.
“Sir Michael Richards’ report recently shares that that’s absolutely the way forward. How can our properties be repurposed to support community diagnostic centres together with our brand and with healthcare partners?” he continued.
Richards’ review added that the diagnostic centres could be located in “NHS community hospitals, retail parks or high street shopping centres”, depending on local need.
Diagnostic centres should also have consulting rooms “alongside diagnostic facilities for assessment of patients with a range of conditions and for explaining findings of investigations; for example, patients presenting with non-specific symptoms, which could be due to cancer”, the report said.
When asked whether Boots is looking into providing cancer screening services, Aziz said the multiple has “started up a few conversations with a few local commissioning bodies”.
“But we already do skin cancer screening in our stores today — mole screening — and we’ve detected cancers through that service. It’s a private service.
“We’ve got the opportunity to have that commissioned with the NHS. It’s not always easy. Sometimes we have to do quite a few pilots before they’re rolled out,” he said.
“But given the fact that we want to play a bigger role in diagnostics, we do see screening to be very closely associated with that, so bowel cancer screening and other screenings of that sort, we are exploring at this moment in time.”
Aziz’s comments follow the expansion of Boot’s Online Doctor service in June 2021, which offers a range of private prescribing and testing services, including testing kits for sexually transmitted infections costing £85 and a HbA1c test for prediabetes and diabetes costing £45.
In October 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care announced that 40 new community diagnostic centres were set to open across England, backed by £350m in funding.
This was followed by an announcement in November 2021 of a £2.3bn investment over the next three years to open at least 100 community diagnostic centres across the country.