Northern Ireland looks forward to digital unification

April 8, 2004

Plans for a regional PACS connecting diagnostic imaging services throughout Northern Ireland to a single, digital infrastructure are taking shape.Northern Ireland's 1.6 million people are currently served by 19 hospital trusts, each with its own

Plans for a regional PACS connecting diagnostic imaging services throughout Northern Ireland to a single, digital infrastructure are taking shape.

Northern Ireland's 1.6 million people are currently served by 19 hospital trusts, each with its own separate medical imaging film archive. The regional PACS would involve installation of the same RIS/PACS solution at these hospitals.

"The plan is to have a truly integrated, brokerless, seamless virtual radiology department within Northern Ireland," said Ivan Craig, full-time Northern Ireland PACS (NIPACS) project manager.

Details will be hammered out once a supplier has been chosen, said Craig, who is pulling together a business case for the system. His vision includes a mix of local online storage, where trusts can keep images for 12 to 18 months, and a single regional archive facilitating multicenter image access.

Funding for the core IT infrastructure will come from Northern Ireland's department of health. Individual hospital trusts will be responsible for fitting internal network connections and financing equipment upgrades such as the move from plain-film radiography to CR and DR.

"One strong motivator behind the project was economy of scale. Rather than everybody buying their own archive and RIS and so on, we could actually come together and consolidate diagnostic imaging services within Northern Ireland," Craig said. "The feeling was that if we didn't implement the PACS, individual trusts were going to do it themselves anyway."

Another economy of scale open to the NIPACS team is formal affiliation with the nationwide IT healthcare program that is rolling out across England. This option could remove the need for a separate tendering process in Northern Ireland and let the region benefit from deals already struck by English officials. Any decision to adopt this route, however, will doubtless depend on awaited confirmation that PACS is indeed going to be covered by the IT healthcare program in England.

In the meantime, Craig is arranging visits to other regional PACS projects in Europe that are already up and running. The "go live" date in Northern Ireland is still a distant goal, though he estimates this could be possible in 2006. Full implementation will be preceded by an extensive training and education program, with particular attention paid to the new RIS, he said.

"I would like to think that we would have the RIS in, and all staff up to speed with that part of the system, before we thought too much about switching on the PACS," Craig said.