THE Hunter’s forensic department has a new piece of machinery that can create a 3D reconstruction of a person’s body, reducing the need to cut it open to find out the cause of death.
The department of forensic medicine, next to John Hunter Hospital, has become the first place in NSW to receive a $600,000 CT scanner which provides 3D detail of bones, internal tissue and organs.
The department carries out post-mortem examinations on about 1750 bodies each year, covering a region which spans from Gosford to the Queensland border, meaning it reports to dozens of coroners.
Scott Pearce, operations manager for NSW Health Pathology, said they were using the scanner on about four bodies a day.
It enabled them to determine the cause of death faster, meaning the deceased could be returned to their family sooner.
“It’s the first in NSW for forensic use,” he said.
“It means we can sometimes see a cause of death without having to do an autopsy where you have to do an invasive procedure of opening the body up.
“Before we had the scanner we just did normal X-rays and then we’d proceed to autopsy if we couldn’t see a cause of death.
“[With the scanner] you can recreate the skull in three dimensions and if someone had head fractures you can see them in the skull.
“There’s the ability to cut part of the skull off digitally and look inside the skull.
“You could also get detailed information for a gunshot wound which could assist police and be provided in the courts.
“It makes it a lot better with defining specific injury patterns with regards to trauma type cases.
“There are specific natural deaths that we can see on the CT scan as well, for instance a stroke.”
Director of forensic medicine Professor Tim Lyons explained that CT scanners had been used by trauma surgeons for years, but it was new to forensics in NSW.
“The CT scanner in many ways, particularly with injuries to the head and pelvis, allows us to visualise the body in a far better way than we could at an autopsy examination,” he said.
“It really does allow us to respect the dignity of the deceased, respect the wishes or the next of kin and undertake the least invasive procedure.
“It’s not going to replace an autopsy in all cases but it’s an amazing medical tool to assist the forensic pathologists and department as whole.”
Health minister Jillian Skinner, who will look at the scanner during a visit to John Hunter today, said the government had invested $600,000, plus operating costs, to support the new service.
“It is about ensuring our pathology staff have the first-class equipment they need to do their job while also doing what we can to avoid further distress for families grieving the loss of a loved one,” she said.