The Role of Digital Pathology in Cancer Diagnostics within the NHS Operational Planning Guidance Plan

The NHS (National Health Service) in England has always aimed to be at the forefront of implementing innovative technologies to advance patient care. The 2023/24 operational planning guidance plan demonstrates this commitment by outlining the key role of digital pathology and imaging networks in enhancing cancer diagnostics and improving overall healthcare outcomes.

Emphasis on Digital Infrastructure

Central to this operational planning guidance is the commitment to bolster the digital infrastructure. Recognising the importance of the right digital foundations for long-term sustainability, the NHS is determined to improve its digital infrastructure and encourage greater connectivity. One aspect of this strategic shift involves the creation of a ‘digital first’ option for patients, promoting a system where digital care is the default option. This plan includes the further development and integration of the NHS App, which is intended to help patients identify their health needs, manage their health effectively, and receive appropriate care in the right setting.

Role of Digital Pathology in Diagnostics

Digital pathology, a critical element of this digital transformation, is an area where the NHS is planning substantial investment. According to the operational planning guidance, the NHS intends to increase the productivity of pathology and imaging networks by at least 10% by 2024/25. This goal will be achieved through substantial investment in digital diagnostics, optimising test throughput rates and maximising the use of resources.

In addition to these efficiency improvements, the NHS has allocated £2.3 billion of capital funding until 2025. This substantial investment aims to support the transformation of diagnostic services, which includes the enhancement of digital diagnostics and the implementation of Community Diagnostic Centres (CDCs). The funding will also go towards the development of endoscopy and imaging equipment, which are essential components of effective cancer diagnostics.

Empowering Patients through Digital Tools

Digital transformation within the NHS extends beyond infrastructure. It also involves implementing digital tools that empower patients with high-quality information, enabling them to take greater control of their health and care. These tools are an essential part of the NHS’s digital strategy and reflect the broader goal of creating a more patient-centred healthcare system.

Digital Maturity Assessments and Data Architecture

To ensure that these digital strategies are effectively implemented, the NHS plans to use digital maturity assessments. These assessments will gauge progress towards the core capabilities outlined in ‘What Good Looks Like’ (WGLL) and identify areas that need prioritisation in planning. In line with this, the NHS will establish an appropriate data architecture for population health management, ensuring data is used effectively to inform decisions and improve patient outcomes.

The Future of Digital Pathology in the NHS

The operational planning guidance outlines a clear commitment to digital pathology and demonstrates how it is an integral part of the future of healthcare within the NHS. By improving digital infrastructure, investing in digital diagnostics, and empowering patients through digital tools, the NHS aims to enhance patient care and improve outcomes, especially in the realm of cancer diagnostics. This commitment to digital pathology signifies a crucial step towards a more efficient, effective, and patient-centred healthcare system.


  1. National Health Service England. (2022). 2023/24 Priorities and Operational Planning Guidance v1.1. Retrieved from
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