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Cellular Pathology Team Improves Processing Speed for Cancer Samples

Improvement work undertaken at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board (ABUHB) has increased the processing speed of urgent suspected cancer samples in its Cellular Pathology lab.

The team at ABUHB is undertaking the work as part of the Suspected Cancer Pathways project. Funded by the NHS Wales Cancer Network and implemented in partnership with Improvement Cymru and vehicle manufacturer Toyota, the project is supporting multidisciplinary cancer teams in Wales to reduce the time between suspicion of cancer and diagnosis.

As part of the project, the ABUHB team attended intensive training at Toyota’s Lean Management Centre in Deeside, where they learned from the car manufacturer’s world-renowned Toyota Production System (TPS). Here they would learn about the effectiveness of Toyota’s Lean Methodology approach and Muda, a Japanese word meaning waste – particularly of time and resources in this context.

The team was encouraged to think about and to question every aspect of its processes and working environment. The aim of the exercise was to identify and reduce waste and to create a lean culture in the lab. 

Inspired by what they had learned at Toyota, staff at the Cellular Pathology Lab (ABUHB), set about putting the Lean Methodology approach into practice. They began by looking at their process of analysing tissue samples to identify breast, skin and lung cancer. Looking at the data over a period of several months, the team identified that only a fraction of the entire samples being prepared – 20% in fact – were being used and indeed necessary for examination by the team.

The overprocessing of tissue samples had generated a backlog of work, requiring additional and external resources. Having identified, through evidence-based data, that 80% of the samples were not required, the team removed this unnecessary waste from their processing procedure. Within a short period of time, the improvement project, complemented by other changes, succeeded in significantly reducing the backlog and increased the rate of processing the samples by 50%. This also provided a welcome boost to staff morale.

Commenting, Jonathan Clarke, Assistant Medical Director for QI at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and Clinical Lead for Improvement Cymru said: “The remarkable effects of this improvement by the Cellular Pathology team are already being felt across the service. I have had many consultant colleagues, that work within cancer services, comment on how much more quickly the pathology results are being processed leading to reduced delays for patients.”

Jeff Turner, Suspected Cancer Clinical Lead, NHS Wales Cancer Network, said: “This fantastic project demonstrates the significant opportunities that exist to improve services for our patients by focussing on efficiencies with how we work. It is exciting to see the immediate impact that this is having within ABUHB and to consider the positive benefits for the wider service going forward.”

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