Crisis talks over thousands of unchecked X-rays
Health chiefs will hold crisis talks with one of the country's largest hospitals today over the discovery that almost 58,000 X-rays were not reviewed by consultant radiologists.
An investigation is being launched after Tallaght Hospital said two patients - one of whom later died and another who is now undergoing cancer treatment - had their diagnoses delayed as a result of the build-up between 2005 and the end of last year.
In a statement, the Health Service Executive (HSE) said its national director of quality and clinical care Dr Barry White and Dr Risteard O Laoide, consultant radiologist and recently-appointed national lead for radiology, along with other HSE chiefs, will attend the hospital today to oversee the inquiry.
The HSE said it will also launch an independent investigation into the latest controversy to rock the health service.
"The details of the investigation will be announced in the coming days," said a spokeswoman.
Professor Kevin Conlon, chief executive at the south Dublin hospital, said the institution deeply regretted the situation and was working hard to resolve the problem.
"The majority would have been reviewed by a non-radiologist, nevertheless this is totally unacceptable and it arose from systemic and process failures," he said.
"The technology now in place is delivering maximum output as staff work longer hours and through into the weekends to clear this backlog."
Prof Conlon said he informed the HSE and the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) as soon as he learned of the problem after his appointment last December.
And the new chief executive revealed he had only just been told about the dead patient, who died at the hospital last summer.
"I was informed of this latter case today and I am pursuing the matter with urgency," he said.
Extra consultants, administrative and technical staff have now been hired, along with a new head of the radiology department in an attempt to have all the adult X-rays reviewed by May.
A free helpline has also been set up for concerned patients and their families.
"I now receive a weekly report on progress which just shows a backlog today reduced by 34,752 to 23,169," Prof Conlon said.
"Every patient who has an X-ray at Tallaght Hospital now has a report generated from a consultant radiologist. There are no unreported X-rays from September 2009."
Fine Gael's health spokesman Dr James Reilly said it was deeply disturbing that no checks had picked up on the backlog.
"Following on from other delayed diagnoses in recent years citing systemic failures, it is vital that full information on this affair is made available so that life-saving lessons can be learned," he said.
"We must now receive assurance from HIQA that this appalling situation does not exist in any other hospital in this country."
Labour health spokeswoman Jan O'Sullivan said the May deadline for reviewing outstanding X-rays was not good enough.
"The patients involved deserve far better than this and additional staff should be brought in to allow the process to be completed within the next few weeks," she said.
"We now have another situation where the diagnosis of patients with serious conditions was missed and treatment delayed.
"We will never know if an earlier diagnosis might have saved the life of the patient who has since died."
The Irish Cancer Society called for full disclosure of the causes of the crisis to restore confidence in cancer care.
Kathleen O'Meara, the charity's head of advocacy, said: "The fact that a patient is now being treated for cancer arising from this failure is a matter of serious concern to us in the Irish Cancer Society.
"There have been many very positive developments in the delivery of cancer care in the last number of years, all designed to ensure that patients receive the best possible care and get the best possible results.
"However, incidents like these have the effect of undermining public confidence and trust and this must be addressed."