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Northern Ireland launches digital health diagnostics programme

NIPACS+ will support the creation of regional networks of care and will help the region to transform diagnostic services, as healthcare professionals benefit from a single point of access to medical images.

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 Northern Ireland Picture Archiving and Communications System + (NIPACS+), follows a contract signed in July 2022, 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.

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. It will enable Northern Ireland to manage approximately two million examinations per year.

NIPACS+ will integrate into Health and Social Care’s ‘encompass’ initiative, that 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 focussed around specialities such as cardiology and obstetrics, are expected to make better use of scarce specialist expertise and to help to standardise and improve access to imaging services for patients 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. This is an extremely exciting project for Sectra to support.”

Pictured above are (from left): Dr Cathy Jack, Chief Executive Belfast Trust and NIPACS+ Senior Responsible Owner; Karen Bailey, Chief Executive of Business Services Organisation; Peter May, Permanent Secretary Department of Health; Joanne Allison, Interim NIPACS+ Programme Manager; and Laura Molloy, Senior Project Manager with NIPACS+.

 

 

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