North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust has signed a five-year deal with imaging IT company Sectra to deliver a regional digital pathology solution.

The solution will span ten separate trusts that form part of the Northern Cancer Alliance, aiming to improve cancer care workflows through enabling pathologists to instantly access and share images and information.

Dr Sonali Natu, histopathologist at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and co-clinical lead of the project, said: “As an integrated health and care system, we need to move away from isolation and head towards integration.

“This platform will deliver a large part of that ambition for the patients we serve. The digital access to pathology images and digital tools for reviewing them will in the end translate into easier collaboration, more resilient services and improved patient care.”

Dr Paul Barrett, histopathologist at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and co-clinical lead of the project, added: “Digital pathology will be an enabler for collaborative working across large geographic areas, streamlining pathology diagnostic decision making, particularly for cancer diagnosis and multidisciplinary team meeting discussions.

“This represents the biggest and most exciting change to the way cellular pathologist work in a generation.”

The solution will support 115 pathologists across the trusts, conducting an average of 300,000 examinations a year.

Sectra’s solution will enable them to access all pathology images produced by the Northern Cancer Alliance, giving them one consolidated view of a patient record.

The digital solution provides pathologists with assistance at critical decision points, such as grading or doing more precise measurements. It also enables image analysis, which reduces variation and improves the precision of tasks such as cell counting.

Alison Featherstone, Northern Cancer Alliance manager, said: “With our aim of getting cancers diagnosed earlier we need to ensure that we are making the best use of the highly skilled pathology staff that we have. This will help us to build capacity and resilience in this key NHS workforce.

“The system will support earlier diagnosis of cancers by using computer-aided algorithms that can highlight areas of images where cells are dividing rapidly and guide the clinicians to those areas for examination. It will also enable more accurate measurement of and comparison of images using panoramic images.”

The digital access also bolsters second opinions, external reading resources, specialist consultations and regional MDT case review meetings.

The trusts within the regional solution will be using PACS based reporting and will integrate with multiple local Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS).