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17 West Midlands NHS trusts deploy digital pathology
Trusts hope digital pathology programme will transform cancer diagnosis in the region and reduce backlogs
Seventeen NHS trusts across the West Midlands have gone live with a digital pathology system aimed at improving cancer diagnosis.
The digital pathology programme, called the West Midlands Cancer Alliance initiative, is thought to be one of the largest in Europe, and covers four NHS pathology networks spread across 17 NHS trusts.
The programme, delivered in partnership with imaging technology provider Sectra, hopes to tackle cancer backlogs by providing clinicians with the digital tools they need to collaborate, share expertise and prioritise urgent cases.
The trusts have completed the technical go-live of the programme, and are now working on the transition from using microscopes and glass slides to digital tissue images.
Neil Anderson, NHS Midlands regional pathology clinical lead and chief scientist at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, hailed the deployment of the system as one of the “most significant events in the last century around how our pathologiests work and how that could lead to cancer pathway improvement”.
He added: “The earlier you can detect cancer, there is the potential for better outcomes for patients. This technology speeds up the process and reporting through the pathology departments, but also allows teams to work between hospitals, enabling them to report on images from anywhere in the region, which will support faster, better cancer diagnosis.”
Anderson said that having all trusts working on the same platform makes it easier to get a second opinion on cases, should they need one, and that the platform will also be used to explore artificial intelligence (AI) to triage patients more quickly.
“Once patients are diagnosed, multidisciplinary teams will have easier access to important information to help them manage patient care,” he said. “All of this will help us tackle backlogs in cancer care and make a big difference for our patients and the future of the profession.”
As part of the programme, a picture, archiving and communication system (PACS) has also been deployed across the four pathology networks. The system enables clinicians to view and analyse diagnostic images digitally and collaborate with colleagues in real time.
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The West Midlands Cancer Alliance is funded by NHS England and is run as a collaborative of clinical, patients and other leaders working together to reduce variation in treatment and diagnosis, and improve outcomes and patient experience through innovation.
Phil Williams, NHS England’s head of digital transformation for the Midlands, described the scale and significance of the programme as “enormous”.
“Bringing four pathology networks together on one platform allows for mutual support and image-sharing throughout a huge geographical area, where there are multiple trauma centres, millions of patients and increasingly in-demand pathology services,” he said.
“The technology we have deployed is an enabler for sharing reporting capacity across the West Midlands – giving us the tools with which we can accelerate strategic long-term service transformation that is already under way to allow NHS services and professionals to work together around the needs of patients.”
Williams added that the programme, which uses private cloud, has the scalability and flexibility needed for collaboration to work.
“The platform is also based on standards, allowing it to interoperate with other NHS systems and enabling us to take data out of silos, opening new possibilities to inform potentially life-saving research,” he said.
“Deploying the platform at this scale will also allow us to leverage AI on an equitable and effective basis – with the ability to trial emerging applications in one location and share learnings regionwide.”