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Digital autopsies taking place in Lancashire

Photo shows (from left) Abdul Qureshi and Khalil Patel from the Lancashire Council of Mosques; Councillor Albert Atkinson, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council; Karen Partington, Chief Executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals; Dr James Adeley, Senior Coroner for Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen; and Darren Brown, Chief Executive of iGene London Limited

*** Joint news release issued on behalf of Lancashire County Council, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and iGene London Ltd ***.

A new digital CT post-mortem service has started in Lancashire, which could meet the national need for heart valves in England and Wales.

The Digital Autopsy service based at Royal Preston Hospital reduces the need for a traditional post-mortem, and will provide families in Lancashire with good access to the centrally-located service.

A traditional post-mortem is performed by a pathologist, who has to open the body and remove the organs to carry out the examination.

By using a Digital Autopsy, heart valves could be removed from registered orqan donors or with agreement from families, and donated to people who need them. Traditional post-mortems make this impossible due to the process involved.

This less-invasive process may also help to reduce the time required to establish a cause of death, which benefits people who require an expedited release of the deceased person.

The Coroner for Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen, Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are working with iGene London Ltd to deliver the new service, which will be free at the point of delivery for bereaved families, and is the first of its kind in the north west.

Blackpool and Fylde are under a different Coroner’s jurisdiction and aren’t included in this new arrangement.

Dr James Adeley, Senior Coroner for Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen, said: “This is a significant advance in establishing accurate causes of death without the need for the distress of the traditional post-mortem, for families who are already grieving.

“The county council and the trust have co-operated very effectively to deliver a service that is unavailable elsewhere on this scale.

“Once this service is fully operational, it could also help to meet the national need for heart valves, which would benefit recipients.”

National Fulfilment System data shows that between May 2017 and January 2018, 347 hearts were donated. To meet clinical demand over this period, 540 were required.

Developments in CT scanning and research have allowed a digital post-mortem to be performed without the need for the traditional invasive procedure – unless further investigation is required to clarify the cause of death. This preserves the dignity of the deceased person and is of particular importance for deaths where the deceased person is of certain faiths.

However some deaths are simply not suitable for a Digital Autopsy and there will remain a need for traditional post-mortems in some cases.

Karen Partington, Chief Executive at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are delighted to be the first hospital in the North West to provide this innovative service, which will help to reduce distress for grieving families who are already going through a difficult time.

“This revolutionary approach to providing post-mortem examinations is far less invasive which means we are able to treat the deceased with more dignity and more quickly than with the current arrangements.

“We are pleased to have been able to deliver this service in collaboration with Dr Adeley, Lancashire County Council and iGene London Ltd in full recognition of the benefits it will provide for the people in Lancashire.”

No facility in Lancashire has previously been able to provide a Digital Autopsy service. Families who request a Digital Autopsy previously had to fund the investigation themselves and arrange transport out of the county.

Mike Wright, Head of Operations at iGene London Ltd, said: “Digital Autopsy offers a significant humanitarian step forward in establishing the cause of death, using software technology rather than a scalpel. We are delighted to have signed the agreement for our fourth facility in the ever expanding UK Network, which will bring Digital Autopsies to the North West of England.”

The new process uses the knowledge and experience that was built up by radiologists and pathologists at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, during a pilot scheme.

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