Better TB screening 'can save NHS cash'
A leading tuberculosis expert is calling for improvements to screening to cut the number of cases.
Dr Pranab Haldar, a consultant in respiratory disease and a specialist in tuberculosis (TB) at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, said better checks on immigrants from high-risk countries could more than halve the number of cases in Leicestershire alone.
It could also save NHS cash spent on treatment.
Dr Haldar is part of a 24-strong task force campaigning for change.
The doctor, who is also a senior lecturer at the University of Leicester, said: "We need to do more to identify TB early so we can catch the infection before it turns into TB.
"This will also help to limit the spread of the disease.
"A large proportion of cases is occurring in recent immigrants who arrive with the infection. They don't have TB but they go on to develop it.
"At the moment, we have no measures to screen these people but if we did it would start to bring the caseload down significantly."
He and colleagues in the Leicestershire TB service see between 200 and 240 patients a year with the infectious disease.
The numbers have increased since the start of the millennium and peaked in 2004 with 320 recorded cases.
Dr Haldar said: "We have expanded our services in recent years and have eight specialist TB nurses.
"We have also introduced a rapid access service so that every patient suspected of having TB is seen within two weeks.
"This has helped to capture a large proportion of cases but we believe improvements to screening will help to identify cases even earlier.
"We need to develop a system which flags up recent immigrants when they register with a GP – which the majority do – so that people can be included in a screening system.
"If people had been screened, we think about 60 per cent of cases of TB in Leicestershire could have been prevented."
The biggest hurdle to bringing in a new screening programme is funding.
Dr Haldar said: "We already have a screening programme for people who have been in contact with people with TB and it would be very simple to extend this.
"As a task force, we are trying to raise awareness of the problem.
"We need to influence the clinical commissioning groups to get funding because there is none available nationally.
"We estimate it would cost about £100,000 a year to screen between 1,000 and 1,500 patients.
"However, the cost of treating a patient with TB is at least £3,000."
Professor Peter Davies, a consultant chest physician in Liverpool and co-chairman of the task force, said: "We need clearer strategies for testing for latent disease among immigrants and better diagnostic tests."
The group will use the international TB awareness day in March to promote their campaign.