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British X-Rays Go Digital

The National Health Service has replaced traditional imaging machines across the country with the cost-saving new ones

The NHS has completed a project to rollout digital x-ray and scanning technology to health trusts across England as part of the £12.4bn national NHS IT programme.

The Picture Archiving and Communication Systems (Pacs) technology replaces the traditional method of using film and paper by allowing x-rays and scans to be stored digitally and accessed by health professionals on computers and laptops.

More than 473 million images have been stored using the technology, which cuts the cost of traditional film processing and storage, and the government said NHS trusts are reporting an average saving of £250,000 in their first year of using Pacs.

The government also claims the technology is improving reporting and clinical decision-making and contributing to reduced patient waiting times between referral and the start of treatment.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said in a statement: "The benefits of the introduction of Pacs in terms of improved patient care are massive. This innovative technology speeds up and improves the accuracy of diagnosis, saves time and improves the quality of care. Trusts are reporting that the time taken for radiologists and radiographers to issue reports to clinicians have typically been halved from more than six days to less than three and these report turnaround times continue to fall with some hospitals reporting all imaging within 24 hours."

The Pacs technology has been rolled out over three years to 127 NHS trusts, with Leeds Teaching Hospitals the final one to complete on 10 December and the government said this contrasts "very favourably" with the 14 years taken to implement those Pacs which pre-dated this national programme.

Although the Pacs project has been completed more fundamental elements of the national NHS IT programme remain way behind schedule, such as the national electronic patient record project.

The NHS care records service will eventually consist of a national summary care record containing basic patient information which can be accessed in emergencies and a more detailed local care record containing more comprehensive clinical information for each patient.

Some pilots of the summary care record have now started but a recent report by the House of Commons Health Select Committee found the scope, capability and timetable for the more detailed local record to be "vague and inconsistent".

And following the loss of hundreds of thousands of patient records this month by nine NHS Trusts there have been calls by opposition politicians and privacy campaigners to review the plans for a national database of patient care records.

These calls have been dismissed by NHS CEO David Nicholson, who said the care record project is "vitally important" and will go ahead.

Richard Granger, director-general of the NHS IT programme is due to formally step down from his role at the end of this year. No plans for a replacement have been announced.

Provided by—Driving Business Through Technology

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