Going digital: The future of NHS Labs

With the UK government’s plan to invest £50 million in NHS diagnostic services, and the work of existing centres of excellence, digital pathology is currently a hot topic for biomedical scientists. The subject is set to become one of the biggest draws at the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) Congress, held at the ICC in Birmingham from 22-25th September, the biggest biomedical science conference in Europe.

Digital pathology will come to change roles and practices in biomedical science across the globe and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and the University of Leeds are leading the way. Their histopathology laboratory is the first laboratory in the world to go 100% digital. At the forefront of the project were biomedical scientists Chloe Lockwood and Basharat Hussain. At IBMS Congress, in their “Total Digital Pathology” plenary on 23rd September, they will be discussing how to successfully make the move from glass to digital, and how it changed their lab. 

Chloe commented: “The laboratory is now scanning around 1,000 slides a day, which equates to 250,000 slides every year. It’s important to recognise that going digital is a huge change management project, and isn’t easy.

"The key to implementing digital pathology is in the details, and it is the laboratory staff who will make it succeed or fail. It is vital that lab staff are involved at every step, and they should feel empowered and engaged to make the changes necessary to make implementation successful.

"Digital pathology is also a fantastic tool, which can be used to train biomedical scientist staff in histological techniques, and demonstrate and explain process artefacts so they can enhance the quality of their work.”

Chloe added, “There is still a long way to go, but advancements such as AI are becoming more of a reality. AI could support pathologists to improve diagnosis, and it could also allow biomedical science staff to take a more active role in patient diagnosis by screening cases before allocating them to pathologists.”

Last year, the Royal College of Pathologists reported that pathology requests are increasing by almost 5% annually, yet a workforce census revealed that only 3% of NHS histopathology labs have enough staff to cope with the demand. This increased demand on laboratory scientists, coupled with the expectation of an upcoming retirement crisis to hit the workforce, has proved that moving toward a digital laboratory is an essential and timely solution.

For details and a full programme of events visit www.ibms.org/congress