University College London Hospitals NHS Trust has signed a deal with Agfa Healthcare to provide a Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) for online X-ray images.

The first phase of implementation will see the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery become the first fully filmless hospital in the Trust. It will also see PACS introduced into key areas of the University College Hospital, Middlesex and Heart Hospital sites.

In phase two PACS will be fully integrated with the trust’s electronic patient record (EPR), currently being separately procured by the trust. This will mean that images can be accessed by the bedside of individual patients when the trust’s flagship new £422m private finance initiative (PFI) hospital, currently being built on Euston Road, opens.

According to the trust implementation planning will start immediately. Equipment will start to be installed within the Imaging and Neuroradiology services in January 2004. The intention is to ensure PACS will be fully operational when the new Euston Road hospital opens in Spring 2005.

Robert Naylor, chief executive of UCLH NHS Trust, told E-Health Insider: “The new hospital will have all of PACS built when we open in 2005.” He added that

PACS is a crucial step in the development of electronic systems to support first-class clinical services across the trust.

Mr Naylor continued: “For patients it will mean less waiting time in all areas of their treatment. The results of an X-ray for A&E patients will be instantly available. Consultations with doctors will not be cancelled because of missing patient X-rays. Our staff will not waste time searching through archives for images, freeing more time to be with patients.”

PACS will enable radiology images (including MRI, CT, Ultrasound and Nuclear Medicine) to be stored in a central digital archive and displayed on PCs connected to the trust’s computer network. Patient images will be available wherever and whenever required.

The new system will enable simultaneous viewing of diagnostic images, for example in A&E and ITU, and even at different hospital sites. Images can also be easily manipulated to yield more clinical information, and current and previous patient images can be viewed on the same PC for comparisons.

Further benefits will include staff having to spend less time looking for images and reduced waiting time for patients. Lost images should become a thing of the past thanks to digital archiving and off-site backup of images.

In a statement to E-Health Insider the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) in the NHS confirmed that ‘digital imaging systems’ form part of the Integrated care Records Service (ICRS) procurement, and added: “The current plan is to have one third of acute trusts with digital imaging systems by the end of 2004.”

According to UCLH an announcement is ‘imminent’ on its preferred supplier for a new EPR system for the eight London hospitals within the trust. Final approval is currently being sought from the Treasury’s Private Finance Unit.

Like the PACS procurement, UCLH’s EPR procurement is proceeding ahead of the procurement and implementation of ICRS across London under the NPfIT because of the tight timescales for the opening of the new Euston Road hospital, which has been designed to be virtually paperless.