Rapid Diagnostic Centres

Patients are usually referred to a hospital team to exclude cancer in a particular part of the body. Rapid Diagnostic Centres provide a diagnostic pathway for patients with non-specific symptoms that do not indicate the site of a tumour.  Symptoms could include unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, and recent fatigue. These symptoms are common in many people who do not have cancer. If a doctor is concerned about such symptoms, the RDC can investigate patients to identify or exclude cancer and either find the cause or suggest further steps to be taken in primary care or with another hospital team.   

There is a Rapid Diagnostic Centre at University College Hospital, North Middlesex University Hospital and at the Royal Free Hospital.  GPs in North Central London can refer patients to a Rapid Diagnostic Centre using the e-referrals system. for patients that have non-specific symptoms that might be due to cancer via the e-referrals system.   Important blood and stool tests to look for other causes of symptoms are carried out via primary care before tests take place at an RDC.

Guidance for GPs:  How to order the NSS pathway test bundle on ICE

Rapid Diagnostic Centres provide:

  • A one-stop service where possible
    Patients will be offered the necessary investigations in one visit to the RDC. This leads to faster decision making for clinicians and fewer trips to the hospital for patients.  
  • A reduction in the need for multiple cancer referrals
    A better way to investigate, if more than one type of cancer could be causing concern. The RDC route avoids patients being referred to different teams at several appointments.  If a patient is diagnosed with a specific cancer (e.g. bowel, bladder, lung) then the patient will seamlessly transfer to the appropriate specialist team at the same hospital trust, where appropriate. 

  •  A consultant-led triage process for a faster and more efficient cancer pathway
    The triage process helps to plan the steps needed at the start of the pathway before the first appointment. This helps us to plan a one-stop service where possible. 
  • A range of tests that exclude or identify cancer, followed by a management plan
    Each patient that attends a RDC is investigated to aid a faster diagnosis or exclusion of cancer. Patients who are diagnosed with cancer will remain under the care of the RDC until their care is taken on by an appropriate specialist team.  

Communication between primary and secondary care

The Cancer Alliance is continually working to improve the exchange of information between primary and secondary care to speed care and support patients.  Frequent discussion between primary care and secondary are held to help ensures that suitable patients are referred to the non-specific symptoms pathway and that up-to-date information is sent back to primary care. 

Support from clinicians, clinical nurse specialists and care navigators

Each hospital trust has a dedicated multi-disciplinary team responsible for the effective running of RDCs. They have good links with the tumour-specific cancer teams for the seamless transition of patients who do have a cancer diagnosis. 

A clinical nurse specialist discusses cancer information with a patient and family member, at North Middlesex Hospital

More information for GPs

The Integrated Care Board website has more information about how, when clinically appropriate, to request tests for patients at a Rapid Diagnostic Centre, rather than through a site-specific suspected cancer referral route. 

Guidance for ordering tests can be found here: How to order the NSS pathway test bundle on ICE


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