It can only be good

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Regional bodies that monitor the activity of cancer across the UK are looking to new technology to help them keep track of data.

The primary aim of the 12 Cancer Registries is to try and identify patterns in the development of the disease and best practice in its treatment.

But whilst gathering the information is hard enough in itself, much publicised new computer systems being put in place throughout the NHS will mean a substantially larger amount of information coming their way.

Dealing with all that data will push the resources of the registries to breaking point, and so some are now testing a new system to help them cope.

Patient data

The Merseyside and Cheshire Cancer Registry is one of those. Founded in 1944, the registry covers a population of 2.4 million people and has more than 600,000 records.

What we can do is automate the process, to eliminate the manual element and move it through a lot quicker
Guy Hayton, Merseyside and Cheshire Cancer Registry
Guy Hayton, head of technology, explained how information had been stored previously: "We've had card index systems going back, various mainframe-type systems, mini-computers and on into the modern PC that you'd have at home."

"The opportunity we've got now, as the NHS is revitalising itself, there's a huge investment going in - billions of pounds from the government to improve the movement of data and patient information around the country.

"What Cancer Registries want to do is to tap into that."

The kinds of statistics provided range from the location and age of the patient, to what initial diagnosis was provided and how effective the treatment was.

Quick analysis

With new systems in hospital trusts and treatment centres around the UK, it is estimated that there will now be up to 5,000 messages coming into the registries every day.

"What we can do is automate the process, to eliminate the manual element and move it through a lot quicker," said Mr Hayton.

The system Merseyside will be using is called Ensemble from Intersystems. If it proves successful, more registries might take it up.

Among some of the questions they will be hoping to address in the future will be the impact of power lines and mobile phone masts on people's health - questions that at the moment seem to generate conflicting reports and no small measure of controversy.