National Histopathology Quality Improvement Programme


Giving patients greater confidence in pathology test results

The Histopathology National Quality Improvement Programme gives patients greater confidence in the diagnosis of illnesses, regardless of whether they are tested at a large or small hospital, either public or private.  

The central aim of the programme is to ensure enhanced patient care and patient safety with timely, accurate and complete pathology diagnoses and reports.

Launched by the Faculty of Pathology in 2009, the programme aims to:

  • improve patient care by minimising diagnostic errors in Histopathology
  • develop a standardised national quality improvement system for Histopathology
  • enable individual laboratories to review their performance against national targets
  • identify good practice and areas requiring improvement and share findings with participating laboratories
  • provide evidence-based assurance to the public of the quality of Irish diagnostic services
  • improve communication between participating institutions.

Thanks to the programme, we can report on national metrics in histopathology, making Ireland the first country in the world to do so.

“Pathology, like many diagnostic services, involves decision making under conditions of uncertainty and an element of error is unavoidable. But an effective quality assurance programme that tracks error rates gives us the best chance to keep them to a minimum.”

Professor Conor O’Keane

Consultant Histopathologist, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital

What is Histopathology?

Diagnostic histopathology involves making diagnoses based on the microscopic examination of tissues removed during various operative interventions and procedures such as endoscopy, biopsy or resections.

The biopsy or surgical specimen is processed and histological sections are placed onto glass slides for examination under a microscope.

Cytopathology deals with diseases on the cellular level. A common application of cytopathology is the smear test, used to detect precancerous cervical lesions and prevent cervical cancer.

Vials in centrifuge.

Why was this programme established?

The Histopathology National Quality Improvement Programme was developed by the Faculty of Pathology as a matter of priority following high-profile cancer misdiagnosis cases in 2007 and 2008.

The Faculty wanted to systematically produce robust evidence on histopathology services in Ireland against the highest international standards. It also wanted to address the lack of national standards or benchmarks for auditing pathology services.

This programme was known as the National Quality Assurance Programme in Histopathology until February 2015.

“It is a constructive, national, standardised response to concerns raised by events in the past which shows that we do learn from things that have gone wrong.”

Dr Philip Crowley

National Director of the HSE Quality Improvement Division

Download the National Data Report ( 1 Jan - 31 Dec 2020)

This is the eight National Report produced by the Histopathology QI Programme reporting on quality indicators in histopathology and cytology

Download the National Data Report ( 1 Jan - 31 Dec 2019)

This is the seventh National Report produced by the Histopathology QI Programme reporting on quality indicators in histopathology and cytology

How the Programme Works

The Faculty of Pathology has set evidence based targets so that histopathology laboratories can track their performance in a number of key areas, for example how quickly test results are processed and reported.

Laboratories enter data relating to their performance against these targets in an online quality information system, which then calculates a national average. 

Laboratories can see how they are performing compared to the national average and identify if there are issues that need to be addressed or areas in which they are excelling.

Laboratories that are performing better than average are encouraged to share their best practice approach with other laboratories, resulting in improved standards overall.

Guidelines for Histopathology departments

These guidelines outline quality improvement activities that should be carried out in a Histopathology department. All references to the National Quality Assurance Programme in Histopathology should now be read as the Histopathology National Quality Improvement Programme.  

The guidelines were developed by a Working Group of consultant histopathologists appointed by the Faculty of Pathology. 

The guidelines have been circulated to all public, private and voluntary hospitals in Ireland that provide histopathology services and are used by all participating histopathology laboratories.

Download Guidelines

Guidelines for the Histopathology National Quality Improvement Programme

Doctor working on computer.

Is your hospital using the National Quality Assurance Intelligence System?

An online tool for Quality Improvement data

An essential component of the Histopathology National Quality Improvement Programme is an online quality assurance system that was built to store, analyse and report on laboratories’ performance. It was developed by the Faculty of Pathology and HSE Health Intelligence Ireland.

Known as NQAIS (National Quality Assurance Intelligence System), it functions as a central repository for quality improvement data from the Laboratory Information System, LIS. It allows us to generate national reports on the accuracy and timeliness of diagnostic testing in hospital laboratories across Ireland.

All 25 of the public histopathology laboratories and seven private laboratories are currently using NQAIS.

Thanks to NQAIS, laboratories can spot best practice and variations from best practice, and monitor, review and improve the quality of their work in the context of national norms and targets set by the Faculty of Pathology.

We use NQAIS to produce an annual report on national metrics in histopathology, making Ireland the first country in the world to do so.


Participating Hospitals
Beacon Hospital Beaumont Hospital Blackrock Clinic
Bon Secours Hospital, Cork Bon Secours Hospital, Dublin Bon Secours Hospital, Tralee
Cavan & Monaghan Hospital
Children's Health Ireland- Our Lady's
Children's Hospital/ Temple Street
Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown
Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital Cork University Hospital
Galway Clinic
Letterkenny General Hospital
Mater Misericordiae University Hospital Mater Private Hospital - Dublin
Mayo General Hospital Midlands Regional Hospital at Tullamore
Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda
Portiuncula Hospital Rotunda Hospital Sligo University Hospital
St. James Hospital St. Vincent's University Hospital Tallaght University Hospital
The National Maternity Hospital, Holles St University Hospital Galway University Hospital Limerick
University Hospital Waterford

“NQAIS is a hugely important advance in patient safety and treatment. As in any walk of life, medical error cannot be entirely eliminated, but this system will give Irish laboratories a unique advantage in monitoring the quality of their reporting and reviewing it against the national standard. This will drive improvement and ultimately reduce errors”

Dr Niall Swan

Consultant Histopathologist at St Vincent’s Hospital

Working with the Health Service

The Histopathology National Quality Improvement Programme is led by the Faculty of Pathology. It has received wide support and is governed by a Steering Committee with representation from:

  • Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
  • HSE Quality Improvement Division (Sponsor)
  • Private Hospitals Association 
  • HSE Office of the Chief Information Officer 
  • HSE Acute Hospitals Directorate
  • Department of Health
  • Consultant Histopathologists
  • National Office of Clinical Audit 
  • Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) – observer

"Ireland is the first country in the world to publically report national metrics on the quality of their pathology system. This should help assure the Irish people that important aspects of medical safety and quality continue to be carefully monitored.”

Professor John Srigley

Expert Lead for Pathology, Canadian Partnership Against Cancer

An award-winning programme

The Histopathology National Quality Improvement Programme won an award for Excellence in Healthcare Management at the Irish Medical Times Healthcare Awards which took place at the Shelbourne Hotel on Thursday, 5 November 2015.

The judges commended the programme as a key initiative in enhancing patient safety which has received wide support from organisations within the healthcare sector.

Read the full news story

"With its annual nationwide quality evaluation system, the Irish Histopathology National Quality Improvement Programme really embodies Peter Drucker's statement 'What Gets Measured Gets Improved'. I am confident that this programme will continue to improve quality and patient safety in Ireland. Really impressive!"

Professor Omar Hameed

Regional Medical Director, Hospital Corporation of America; Adjunct Professor of Pathology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Information Governance

The Histopathology National Quality Improvement Programme has developed an Information Governance Policy.

This policy defines how data collected for the Programme is governed, processed, stored, accessed and reported on.

NQAIS User guide - training videos are available below


In this tutorial we demonstrate how to log onto NQAIS, change password, update user details and what to do if you forget your password.


In this tutorial we explain what the python encryption tool is, why we use it and how to install the python encryption tool on a computer.


In this video we demonstrate how to locate the Lab Information System (LIS) extract file for upload. We will also outline how to encrypt the selected CSV file and how to locate the newly created encrypted file.  



In this video we teach you how to create a New NQAIS access account, add new users to NQAIS, and edit users that are already up on NQAIS.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about the Specialty Quality Improvement Programmes, please contact:

Áine Mitchell

Programme Manager, National Histopathology Quality Improvement Programme

Tel: +353 (0)1 863 9759

Caitríona McGrath

Department Manager, Specialty Quality Improvement Programmes

Tel: 01 8639 658

Caitríona is the Department Manager for the Specialty Quality Improvement Programmes in:

  • GI Endoscopy
  • Radiology
  • Histopathology