Northern Ireland launches digital health diagnostics programme

By Jo Makosinski | Published: 15-Nov-2022

NIPACS+ will support the creation of regional networks of care and help the region to transform diagnostic services

The Health and Social Care (HSC) service in Northern Ireland is to transform how diagnostic services are delivered, as it brings together millions of crucial digital patient images into a single system, provided by medical imaging technology partner, Sectra.

The programme, called NIPACS+, follows a contract signed in July and will see every trust across Northern Ireland break down silos of imaging information to help enhance care and support timely diagnoses for patients throughout the region.

It builds on over a decade of work in the original Digital Archiving programme ‘NIPACS’ with Sectra’s solution that has allowed the HSC to digitise and connect its radiology and pathology services and represents an estimated capital investment of £50m.

A single system

In one single imaging system, Northern Ireland’s HSC healthcare professionals will be able to access and interact with patient images from a wide range of disciplines, including radiology, cardiology, oncology, obstetrics, endoscopy, medical photography, nuclear medicine, dental, and ophthalmology.

Images from any hospital will be available throughout the region for secondary consultations, and cooperation, leading to enhanced patient care as well as reduced cost and increased efficiency.

The NIPACS+ programme directly responds to a large number of recommendations in a 2018 Northern Ireland Department of Health strategic framework for imaging services, that set out to transform how imaging services are planned and provided.

It called for NIPACS to be expanded into new clinical areas, and for a single radiology information system and picture archiving communication system to be available across all acute sites, integrated with Northern Ireland’s care record systems.  

Procured by Northern Ireland’s Business Services Organisation (BSO), the programme will draw on the entirety of Sectra’s enterprise imaging technology suite and will enable the management of approximately two million examinations per year.

Integrated care

NIPACS+ will integrate into Health and Social Care’s ‘encompass’ initiative which is delivering an integrated digital care record across Northern Ireland, making imaging easily available at the point of care.

The initiative will also support the creation of ‘enhanced clinical networks’, called for in the 2018 framework.

Regional networks of care focused around specialities such as cardiology and obstetrics, are expected to make better use of scarce specialist expertise and help to standardise and improve access to imaging services for patients across Northern Ireland. 

Patients being transferred to different hospitals, will also benefit from staff having immediate access to imaging captured at other sites.

And specialist sites, for example the major trauma centre or neurology unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital, will be able to review images more easily before patients arrive, in some cases informing decisions on where best to treat a patient.

Supporting the workforce

In addition, the programme will support the creation of diagnostic hubs and the development of training facilities.

Workforce flexibility, and the ability for healthcare diagnosticians to report on images captured anywhere in the region, will be complemented by home reporting capabilities, which is expected to support recruitment and retention as well as workload balancing across Northern Ireland.

Jane Rendall, managing director for Sectra in the UK and Ireland, said: “Northern Ireland is an example for the world in integrated diagnostics.

“NIPACS has already delivered so much, digitising radiology and more recently pathology, and the benefits delivered are about to be extended and accelerated for more healthcare professionals and their patients across the region.”

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