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DHSC promotes further use of digital pathology


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced a plan to increase the use of the digital pathology in the health service.

It said it will take forward the recommendation of the UK National Screening Committee to do so at its meeting in November of last year.

DHSC said that digital pathology can make it easier to identify cancer, speed up diagnosis, help clinicians to obtain second opinions on whether samples are cancerous and help laboratories to work more efficiently.

NHS England is expected to follow by issuing guidance to pathology teams on the best way to use the technology.

In 2020, the UK National Screening Committee was asked by the National Coordinating Committee for Breast Pathology and by the Royal College of Pathologists to consider the evidence regarding the use of whole slide imaging.

This is a technique which allows slides to be reviewed digitally on a computer screen, rather than with a microscope. The technology enables an image of the entire glass slide to be created in high resolution which can then be stored and viewed on a computer screen or mobile device and saved for later review.

A trial has assessed whether using digital microscopy is as effective as using microscopes and slides for screening samples. With results confirming it was, the committee agreed it is a safe option to complement or replace light microscopy.

Screening expansion

The announcement comes after the NHS recently expanded the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, sending out hundreds of thousands of testing kits for people to use at home to detect cancer at an earlier stage.

The Government has also opened 141 community diagnostic centres delivering more than five million additional scans, including for cancer, and invested a further £10 million for 28 new breast screening units and over 60 upgrades to services.

Steve Russell, national director for vaccinations and screening at NHS England, said: “The NHS’ successful national screening programmes – bowel, breast and cervical – are saving thousands of lives every year by identifying people at risk and spotting cancers early.

“While we are already using some digital innovations to improve the accuracy of cancer diagnosis, we look forward to further utilising digital pathology imagery for the benefit of screening patients.”

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