A new digital post-mortem service, which will avoid the use of invasive procedures, has been agreed for Lancashire.
Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have signed a contract with iGene Ltd for the provision of the new service which will be based at the Royal Preston Hospital.
A traditional post-mortem is performed by a pathologist who has to open the body and carry out the examination.
iGene say that developments in CT scanning and research have allowed a digital post-mortem to be performed without the need for the traditional invasive procedure.
Although they added that some deaths are simply not suitable for a digital autopsy and there will remain a need for traditional post mortems in some cases.
The digital autopsy service will be based in Preston, due to its central location, providing families in Lancashire with good access to this service. Other neighbouring areas have already shown interest in accessing it.
Dr James Adeley, Senior Coroner for Lancashire, said: "This is a significant advance for the people of Lancashire 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 cooperated very effectively to deliver a service that is unavailable elsewhere on this scale."
The service, to be provided by Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and iGene, will be free at the point of delivery for bereaved families.
Mark Pugh, Medical Director at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We are delighted to be the first place 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 the current arrangements.
"We are pleased to have been able to deliver this service in collaboration with Dr Adeley, Lancashire County Council and iGene in full recognition of the benefits it will provide for the people in Lancashire."
No facility in Lancashire is currently able to provide a digital autopsy service. Families who request a digital autopsy have to fund the investigation themselves and arrange transport out of the county.
Darren Brown, Vice President - Commercial and Strategy for iGene, 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 proposed scheme will utilise the knowledge and experience that has been built up by the radiologists and pathologists at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust during a pilot scheme that has been running over the last few months.