A groundbreaking new initiative in Nottingham, which uses a scanner first developed to detect ripeness in cheese to target liver disease before the onset of symptoms, has been awarded a major prize for innovation.
The new diagnostic pathway, developed by specialists at The University of Nottingham and Nottingham University Hospital NHS Trust, has the potential to save lives, improve detection rates for cirrhosis and reduce costs across the NHS.
The pathway uses simple blood tests and the portable scanner called a fibroscan, which measures liver elasticity. All tests are carried out in GP surgeries, with liver specialists reviewing patients with abnormal results in the community.
Reversing disease at an early stage
The Nottingham team, led by Professor Aithal and Dr Neil Guha, based in the Nottingham Digestive Diseases Centre, uses a series of evidence-based tools to screen at risk patients (including those with high alcohol intake or Type 2 diabetes), diagnosing liver disease at an early stage when it is still reversible. Adoption of recommended life style changes could prevent the onset of symptoms of liver disease including bleeding, abdominal fluid, confusion and eventual death.
Three quarters of patients diagnosed with early stage liver disease during the project pilot would not have been identified using the traditional patient pathway.
From a catchment area of 12,000 people, savings are estimated at £15,000 during the pilot. If the pathway was rolled out nationally, projected costs savings could be as much £74.6 million in the first year.
Dr Neil Guha one of the joint project leads said: “Death from chronic liver disease has progressively increased in the UK for the past four decades so it is important that we overcome shortcomings of conventional ways of detection, diagnosis and referral.
“None of the individual elements or tools are new. But each is simple and validated and we have bought them together in a novel diagnostic pathway to detect significant chronic liver disease. Importantly, it targets early asymptomatic liver disease at a critical stage when it is still reversible.”
High quality innovations
Professor Sir Malcolm Grant CBE, Chair of NHS England, said: “It is a sign of the commitment and talent within the NHS that this year’s awards saw a record number of entries and winners of such high quality and potential.
“We need to find new ways of working if the NHS is going to be fit to face the challenges ahead and we know that those ideas need to come from the people delivering care on a daily basis. It is tremendously encouraging to see innovations like this from frontline staff making a real difference to the NHS and patients.”
There are plans for the pathway to be implemented across the region with the support of the East Midlands Academic Health Science Network. The East Midlands Network – one of 15 across the country - pulls together NHS agencies, universities and industry to speed up the adoption of innovation in health care.
The Scarred Liver Project was a winner in the Improved diagnostic investigation category of the NHS Innovation Challenge Prizes. The project was awarded a prize of £100,000.
The NHS Innovation Challenge Prizes aim to identify and spread innovative ideas from frontline staff to help solve some of the biggest challenges the NHS faces today. The latest round of prizes attracted a record number of entries.
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