It is a grisly, but undeniably essential process in answering the vital questions left when somebody dies.

But soon scalpels could be swapped for scanners as Norfolk looks to offset fears about the impact of a national shortage of pathologists.

Norfolk County Council is looking into new technology to provide 'digital autopsies' to help boost the county's coronial service and ease the suffering of bereaved families.

The process will see post mortem examinations carried out using CT scanners to determine causes of death, rather than the traditional form of autopsy carried out by pathologists.

If introduced, the technology would be used in the first instance, with manual autopsies only carried out when the digital method is inappropriate.

Theresa King, Norfolk's head of coroner services, said: "While the coroner's service in Norfolk remains well-resourced, we have to recognise that there is a national shortage of pathologists trained and able to conduct the detailed post mortem examinations we need to carry out regularly.

"In order to avoid any issues, we're starting to explore how new technology could help our offices serve Norfolk in future."

Experts say a major benefit of digital autopsies is that the scans can be carried out multiple times - and that being non-invasive the procedures help minimise the pain for the bereaved.

Ms King added: "Digital autopsies are seen as an alternative to traditional post mortem examinations, using technology to help find the cause of death and reducing the demand on pathologies.

"While this technology wouldn't be suitable in all cases, it could help manage the demand on our team in future should the shortage of pathologists begin to impact on our work here in Norfolk and ensure the coroner's service continues to deliver the full range of services needed well into the future."