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Breakthrough for cancer patients as a network of digitized NHS pathology departments readies to go live in the North of England

publication date: Dec 22, 2023
author/source: The National Pathology Imaging Co-operative



  • By Q1 2024, six NHS hospitals serving 3 million people living in West Yorkshire and Harrogate will have shared access to innovative digital pathology technology
  • The move to digital means that cancer patients could be diagnosed faster, with instant access to specialists from across the region, a process which previously took days or weeks – maximising the potential for better patient care
  • Announcement comes after three years of work led by NPIC (National Pathology Imaging Co-operative) based out of the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and is one of the largest IT project the NHS has embarked upon in over 20 years


NPIC has announced a major breakthrough for cancer diagnosis in West Yorkshire and Harrogate. Six NHS hospitals in the area, which together serve 3 million people, have joined forces to offer a digital pathology service. This major milestone is the culmination of three years of work and could result in faster cancer diagnosis for people living in the area, irrespective of their proximity to a specialist cancer centre. The rollout at the West Yorkshire Association of Acute Trusts (WYAAT) could herald the wider adoption of digital pathology across the NHS.

Traditionally, pathologists diagnose cancer by examining samples of patient tissue on glass slides using a microscope. A key drawback of this approach is the necessity to physically transport fragile slides from hospital to hospital, which can cause delays in diagnosing and treating the patient. The breakthrough in WYAAT means that slides will be digitally scanned in ultra-high definition allowing them to be securely shared at the touch of a button with experts in the network.

Prof Darren Treanor, NPIC Programme Director and Consultant Pathologist and Honorary Clinical Professor, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, commented: “World leading technology is now available in West Yorkshire to accelerate cancer diagnosis. As a specialist cancer centre, we receive hundreds of patients’ samples per month from hospitals in the region, with typically 10-day delays. Now, an image can be shared securely in an instant – two experts can even look at a digital image of the same slide, at the same time. We are proud that NPIC are the first in UK to embark on a single digital pathology system of this size, providing a scalable infrastructure that could support digital pathology for the whole NHS."

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, where NPIC is headquartered, is home to the largest repository of digital pathology slides in the UK and has been digitally scanning every slide since 2018 thanks to their partnership with Leica Biosystems. The creation of the WYAAT digital pathology network is the cornerstone of NPIC, and aims to deliver improved cancer diagnostics for patients across the region. The WYAAT project will involve scanning in excess of 750,000 slides each year, which if stacked on top of each other would be more than 6 times the height of Bridgewater Place - the tallest building in Yorkshire.

Over the last three years, the WYAAT project has involved:

  • Transformation of the 6 pathology departments leveraging cutting edge technology, including deployment of 15 new scanners from Leica Biosystems in the 6 hospital sites
  • High-speed networking infrastructure to allow large amounts of data to be transferred in just seconds
  • Creation of a world-leading secure digital pathology infrastructure, with 29 Petabytes of mirrored storage across 2 datacentres
  • Development of the world’s largest digital pathology vendor neutral archive (VNA) capable of supporting clinical digital pathology in the whole NHS for years to come


Building on the success of the WYAAT digital pathology network the larger NPIC project will see 238 pathologists using digital pathology in 40 hospitals in England, scanning over 5 million slides and generating in excess of 7 Petabytes of data per year.

“Implementing digital pathology is a major transformation project for pathology departments,” commented Bash Hussain, NPIC Deployment Director. “Successful deployment across the WYAAT network represents a major milestone for cancer diagnostics in the region. This ambitious programme is being led by NPIC and enabled in partnership with world leading industry experts including Leica Biosystems, Sectra and Exponential-e to provide unmatched technology and expertise in this exciting and expanding field.”

Pathologists across the region are ramping up their usage of digital pathology, which aims to provide faster patient diagnosis through rapid, secure sharing of cases enabling efficient use of pathology expertise in the 6 WYAAT hospitals.

Professor Phil Wood, Chief Executive at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, said: “We are incredibly proud to have such a strong track record in research and innovation at Leeds Teaching Hospitals. This partnership with NPIC and WYAAT will allow us to take our ambition even further.

We know that early diagnosis means better treatment options, and this gets harder the further away patients live from the specialist centres. Working with NPIC, Leica Biosystems and WYAAT Trusts will mean all patients in West Yorkshire will have access to the best possible digital diagnosis and care.”

Dewsbury and District Hospital, part of the Mid Yorkshire Teaching NHS Trust is one of the WYAAT hospitals now using digital pathology in their routine work. Dr Craig Sayers, Consultant Histopathologist based at the Dewsbury site commented, “There is increased pressure and demands on pathology services everywhere. The early detection of cancer is a key NHS priority so the number of biopsy samples that require expert analysis is only going to increase. The digitisation of pathology across our region allows rapid review of biopsies taken at another site and unlocks the potential for a number of experts to collaborate in real time, accelerating this essential part of the diagnostic process and helping to improve patient care.”

Digital pathology is also a key area for the use of artificial intelligence (AI) as a tool for pathologists to speed up or improve diagnosis. In the future, computer algorithms could support pathologists in detecting small areas of cancer that have spread to lymph nodes, quantify and measure tumours, and rapidly direct pathologists to areas of abnormality in the tissue sample. Today, the digitization of histopathology departments in the WYAAT network represents an important step towards the widespread adoption of technology that would make the use of AI solutions possible.


About NPIC

The National Pathology Imaging Co-operative (NPIC) is funded by the UK Industry Strategy Challenge Fund and National Health Service. The UK Industry Strategy brings together industry partners and researchers. It will benefit society and the UK economy and is managed by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

NPIC was founded in 2019. It is a unique collaboration between NHS, Academic and Industry partners. The initial investment of £10.1m from UK Research and Innovation was boosted by another £7m from industry partners. This funding was to deploy digital pathology across West Yorkshire and to develop AI-based tools. In August 2020, it was announced that NPIC was one of three centres that would benefit from a £20 million funding boost, provided by the UK government, augmented by an additional £4 million industry contribution. This allowed NPIC to ‘scale up’ the aims of the project and expand our horizons beyond West Yorkshire.

NPIC is based at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Leeds has been at the forefront of digital pathology and AI research and innovation for more than 15 years, with St James University Hospital being one of the world’s first fully digital pathology labs. Successes at Leeds are being used as a blueprint for deployment in other Trusts.

The National Pathology Imaging Co-Operative is led by Prof Darren Treanor, a consultant liver pathologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals. Prof Treanor is an honorary clinical Professor at the University of Leeds, Adjunct Professor in Digital Pathology at Linköping University, Sweden and Digital Pathology Lead for the Royal College of Pathologists, UK. Prof Treanor is a key innovator in the field of digital pathology and is the founder of NPIC as well as the programme director.

The consortium is a globally leading centre for applying artificial intelligence (AI) research to cancer diagnosis. Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is a leader in the area of digital pathology for cancer diagnosis, and has many close links with academic researchers.

The six hospitals participating in WYAAT digital pathology network are:

1.     The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (fully live site)

2.     Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust (fully live site)

3.     Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust (fully live site)

4.     The Mid Yorkshire Teaching NHS Trust (fully live site)

5.     Airedale NHS Foundation Trust (will go live in Q1 2024)

6.     Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (will go live in Q1 2024)


About Leica Biosystems

Leica Biosystems is a cancer diagnostics company and a global leader in workflow solutions, offering the most comprehensive portfolio from biopsy to diagnosis. With unique expertise, we are dedicated to driving innovations that connect people across radiology, pathology, surgery and oncology. Our mission of “Advancing Cancer Diagnostics, Improving Lives” is at the heart of our corporate culture. Our easy-to-use and consistently reliable offerings help improve workflow efficiency and diagnostic confidence. The company is headquartered in Germany and operates in over 100 countries.



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