UK National Screening Committee says digital pathology can support quality assurance and flexibility for pathologists

The government has accepted the UK National Screening Committee’s finding that the use of digital pathology to examine body tissues is a “safe option to complement or replace light microscopy”, with further use of digital pathology encouraged across the NHS.

The recommendation follows up on action taken in 2020, when the UK National Screening Committee was asked to consider evidence around the use of whole slide imaging – the technique allowing slides to be reviewed digitally rather than under a microscope, with the technology enabling an image of the entire glass slide to be created in high resolution, viewed on a device and stored for further review.

Following a trial to assess whether this technique is as effective as the use of microscopes, the committee agreed on its safety as an option. Committee chair Professor Sir Mike Richards states: “We need a high level of evidence when it comes to screening programmes so, alongside the National Institute for Health and Care Research, we sponsored vital research to assess the effectiveness of this technique.

“Following that research, I’m pleased that the UK National Screening Committee’s recommendation to allow the use of digital pathology has been approved. Its use will support flexibility for pathologists, and make sharing samples for second opinions or quality assurance easier and more efficient.”

The government notes that NHS England is expected to follow the recommendation up with guidance for pathology teams on the best way to use the technology.

Steve Russell, national director for vaccinations and screening at NHSE, comments: “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.”

We have previously covered updates around digital pathology within the NHS, with trusts in the Lancashire and South Cumbria region looking to implement an integrated digital pathology solution last year and the West Midlands Cancer Alliance initiative setting out a digital pathology programme hoped to reduce backlogs for cancer services whilst helping to improve speed and accuracy of diagnoses.

In other news on health tech from the government, in October we shared how the government proposed £100 million for the AI Life Sciences Accelerator Mission, with the potential funding to be invested in areas where AI is viewed to have potential to tackle incurable diseases.