Our latest report analyses the opinions and experiences of more than 1,000 NHS patients on diagnostic testing services.

The main message is clear: patients view diagnostics as a fundamental part of the NHS and one that should be prioritised over the coming years. They want to see greater prioritisation and investment in testing services.

Most respondents (93%) want testing capacity to be invested in over the coming years so that patients can receive tests and diagnosis more quickly. Funding and technology would enable quicker diagnosis and improved patient experiences.

Patients place such importance on diagnostics that 60% would consider paying for the tests they need if they faced a long wait on the NHS.

These findings highlight the need to deliver improvements in current services. The stakes are high, with early diagnosis leading to quicker treatment, better outcomes, and reduced hospitalisation. 

We must listen to these patient experiences and take action to enhance diagnostic services. Read Patient Experience of Diagnostics Report.

“Delays mean more deterioration and will cost the NHS more as patients are sicker. Investing in diagnostics is expensive in the short term but cost effective in the long term.”

Key findings

  • More than nine out of ten (93%) respondents want testing capacity to be invested in over the coming years so that patients can receive tests and diagnosis more quickly.
  • More than nine out ten (91%) want investment in diagnostics and new technology to be prioritised.
  • Three out of five (60%) would consider paying privately if they faced long waits on the NHS.
  • More than 3 in 4 (77%) would be happy to test themselves at home.  
  • Four out of five (82%) want more discussion of testing options when being referred. 
  • Around nine out of ten (88%) want a realistic timeline for receiving results.
  • A third (36%) reported their physical health declined while waiting for tests. 
  • A third (34%) said their mental health declined while waiting for tests.

“Getting help in the first place is the biggest problem with the NHS. I think it’s a great idea to open up access to testing and, as we did with COVID, to make self-testing more available.”

Patient-centred

The survey results clearly show patients want a more transparent, patient-centred approach throughout the testing process.

Three-quarters (73%) of respondents wanted better understanding of why they are being sent for a test and what it will involve.

More than four in five (82%) want more discussion about the different types of tests they could be referred for.

The great majority (88%) want an improved explanation of what results meant for their treatment.

Frustrations with current services had real consequences for those taking part in the survey. More than a third (34%) reported physical or mental health declines while waiting for tests. Delays also negatively impacted work, family, and long-term recovery for many patients. 

Patients voiced their backing to solutions to the problems of access. In addition to backing investment in capacity and technology, nearly four out of five (78%) would be willing to travel outside their local area for tests if it meant faster access. More than three in four (77%) would be happy to test themselves at home; 44% said they would be willing to test themselves in a clinical setting. 

“More explanation of tests available and wider availability of tests. It’s preventative health care so could help reduce pressure on the NHS.”

Key recommendations

Based on these findings our recommendations to improve access to diagnostic testing in the NHS are:

  • Expand community diagnostic hubs by removing NHS estate restrictions and expanding tests offered. With demand rising by 7% annually, the current 5% capacity target for new hubs is inadequate.
  • Increase transparency on waiting times through better use of data held by the NHS. Patients deserve to know how long they’ll wait for tests and results.
  • Support appropriate expansion of at-home testing options where considered clinically safe and effective. Our results show clear appetite from patients for this.
  • Improve communication with patients throughout the testing process. This includes explaining the reason for tests, available options, timelines for results, and what results mean.
  • Ensure political commitments to improve diagnostics access from all parties in upcoming election manifestos.
  • Review NHS Constitution pledges on waiting times based on patient experiences. 

“Patients often have a lot of travelling and waiting. Community hub hospitals for tests, health condition maintenance etc, would be fab.”

The complete report provides further details on the survey methodology, full set of findings, and additional patient insights through case studies. Read Patient Experience of Diagnostics Report.

Please help spread the word on this important issue. We want to see real commitments to address the challenges identified in our report. Use the social media buttons below to share the report.  
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The Patients Association is grateful to Roche Diagnostics UK and Ireland for funding this project. Analysis of the survey data and development of the report and the recommendations were done by the Patients Association, without influence from Roche Diagnostics.