Hi-tech scanners give doctors new insight

CHRIS BISHOP Doctors are being given X-ray vision using a new kind of scanner being installed at a Norfolk hospital. Incredible images inside the human body taken with the help of new CT (computerised tomography) scanners will allow medical staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to tour the inside of a patient seeking out life-threatening troublespots such as brain damage resulting from head injuries, blood clots on lungs, the exact site and extent of damage caused by strokes and the location of tumours.

CHRIS BISHOP

Doctors are being given X-ray vision using a new kind of scanner being installed at a Norfolk hospital.

Incredible images inside the human body taken with the help of new CT (computerised tomography) scanners will allow medical staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to tour the inside of a patient seeking out life-threatening troublespots such as brain damage resulting from head injuries, blood clots on lungs, the exact site and extent of damage caused by strokes and the location of tumours.

Two of the £550,000 machines are being installed at the QEH later this year, as part of a new £3m radiology unit.

They will replace the QEH's existing CT scanner which, at 10- years-old and in constant use, is about three years beyond its normal life expectancy and has suffered a number of breakdowns recently.

With the old CT scanner a detailed picture of the part of the body causing concern is made by compiling a series of 7mm-deep layers, or "slices", scanned through the body from the head downwards. However, the images transmitted to a monitor are in black and white with limited scope for detailed study.

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The new equipment will allow slices as thin as 0.6mm to be scanned, and at greater speed, which allows an intensely-detailed image to be compiled of the inside of the body. This can then be rotated through various planes for closer examination if needed.

Other advantages are that the new scanners produce artificially-coloured images and the technical facility to see, for example, just the blood vessels or other specific features, allowing consultants to take a virtual tour of the body's interior.

The Radiology Department at the QEH currently carries out around 6,500 CT scans every year. A further 2,000 cases are referred every year for other types of scan, such as ultrasound, because the hospital has lacked the capacity to deal with more CT scans.

At present the QEH's existing scanner is in constant use for 11 hours a day, plus out-of-hours emergencies. During recent breakdowns patients have had to be transferred to Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge for CT scans.

Consultant radiologist Dr Martin Crowe said: "We have needed a replacement scanner for two or three years now and it's a tribute to our engineers that we have been able to keep the present scanner working so hard for so long.

"The fact that we will have two scanners will mean that we can provide a far better service for our patients and that will really take the Trust forward into the next stage of its growth and development."