CANCER diagnosis in Scotland is set for a “radical change” with the launch of two new centres where patients will be able to undergo multiple tests in a single appointment.

The Scottish Government will invest £3 million to pilot Early Cancer Diagnostic Centres (ECDCs) at two sites in Scotland from next Spring, with plans to establish a centre in all three of Scotland’s NHS cancer regions.

It is hoped that the initiative will result in fewer hospital visits and speedier diagnoses, especially where patients have vague symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and unexplained weight loss.

Details were outlined in the Scottish Government’s ‘Recovery and Redesign’ action plan for cancer services, which comes amid fears that the NHS is facing a tsunami of late-stage cancer cases as a result of delayed referrals and disruption to screening services during the pandemic.

READ MORE: Volunteer recovers after developing spinal disorder 'possibly related' to Covid vaccine

Cancer diagnoses fell by around 4,000 between March and June, with referrals for suspected mouth cancer alone in the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde region - where rates are highest - dropping by 46 per cent in the six months from March.

In September, Public Health Scotland reported that 3,056 cancer patients were referred for tests and scans or started treatment between April and June this year, down by 22% compared to 2019.

The 'Recovery and Redesign' report said there was emerging evidence in the UK and internationally that offering GPs a “single point of access” for referrals particularly benefitted cancer patients “with non-specific symptoms”.

The ECDCs will be able to provide “multiple tests at one appointment” and see patients “assessed and tested by a team of specialists during one visit”.

It added: “The Centres will result in fewer hospital visits for patients, providing them with the right tests in the first instance.

“This is in contrast to multiple referrals to different specialties, which include the risk of unnecessary investigations or inadvertent repeat investigations, until a diagnosis is confirmed, be it cancer or another serious condition.”

READ MORE: Warning over sharp drop in mouth cancer referrals 

The reports says phase one will begin in Spring 2021 with the introduction and evaluation of centres in “at least two sites”, with plans to create an ECDC in all three of Scotland’s cancer regions: the West of Scotland, North Scotland, and South-East Scotland.

The report added: "There will be a small cohort of complex patients moving through any Centre at one time.

"Social distancing and the increase in virtual ways of working will support effective clinical triage, same-day radiology reporting and speedy onward referral to specialty services."

The Scottish Government has pledged an extra £17 million on top of an existing budget of £97.5m to try to get cancer services back on track by March 2023.

Cancer Research UK's senior spokeswoman in Scotland, Marion O'Neill, welcomed the plan for "one-stop shops", but added: "What we don't see here is how to address the acute staff shortages that existed even before the pandemic struck."

Macmillan’s head of policy, Kate Seymour, said the report was right to recognise the challenge facing cancer services.

She said: “It’s not enough for the cancer care system to get back to the way it was before the pandemic, particularly when we expect a deluge of people into the system, diagnosed late with more advanced cancers that require more invasive treatment."

Six new mobile MRI and CT scanners will be rolled out, and health boards will also be "[encouraged] to increase GP direct access to CT scans" to speed up testing for possible cancer patients.

READ MORE: Cancer referrals down 22% in first three months of lockdown 

However, the report warned that diagnostic scopes, such as endoscopies and colonoscopies "will not return to pre-Covid-19 levels for some time as a result of social distancing and enhanced PPE requirements".

Alternatives such as colonoscopy capsules, which can be swallowed by patients and have two tiny cameras that can photograph the bowel walls, are being introduced across NHS Scotland.

The report also outlined plans to invest £500,000 to launch a lung cancer awareness campaign in 2021 after "dramatic" reduction in diagnoses during the pandemic, as well as £2.45m to tackle inequalities in the uptake of cancer screening in more deprived areas.