Patients 'not at risk' over reports backlog at Tallaght Hospital
Tallaght Hospital in Dublin has insisted patient safety is not at risk, despite a build-up of around 6,000 reports on patient X-rays and other scans.
The backlog has meant a delay of up to five weeks in some cases in sending out the reports that contain the results of a particular patient's scan to their doctor.
The doctor would have referred the patient to the hospital for the scan and has to wait for the information in the report before coming to a full diagnosis.
However, a spokesman for the hospital insisted that radiologists read all the images and any urgent or critical results, which signal a concern about a patient, are immediately brought to the attention of their doctor who gets information within 24 hours.
Clerical staff who transcribe these reports prioritise the results of patients, which need to be given to their doctor as early as possible, he added.
The current backlog, which only involves adult patients, has arisen because the hospital does not have enough clerical staff to type up the reports generated by a new CT scanner.
Tallaght Hospital was at the centre of major controversy in 2009 when it emerged that a backlog of 57,000 X-rays and other scans, as well as unopened letters from GPs looking for an appointment for their patient, had built up.
An independent inquiry highlighted a range of problems, including a shortage of radiologists. This led to the appointment of additional specialists and a reorganisation of systems.
In 2011, the hospital was outsourcing the typing of these reports to a Philippines firm.
A recent internal memo from the hospital's radiology department warned the backlog left patients at "continued medical risk" because of the delay in contacting the patient's doctor.
The memo said the issue had been brought to the attention of senior management for four months, but the backlog remained.
A spokesman for hospital chief executive Eilish Hardiman said: "There is no risk to patient safety. This is an administrative concern and it is important that its significance is not misunderstood or misrepresented.
"We have a documented clinical governance process in place for the radiologists, the doctors who report the image, which they must follow to ensure that any critical or urgent findings are immediately brought to the attention of the referring doctor and to the clerical staff who then transcribe and send the report immediately.
"The number of reports requiring typing has increased due to initiatives to improve access to imaging and a second CT scanner opened in December 2012 along with an initiative with Naas General Hospital which reduced MRI waiting lists by 16pc in 16 weeks."
In response a number of actions are under way, including the allocation of necessary clerical staff and the implementation of a voice recognition system to speed up the process from next month.
He said Tallaght carried out 172,400 examinations in 2012 and the delay in typing at the moment impacts about 6,000 examinations, which represents 3.5pc of examinations.
Around 3,000 of the 6,000 reports relate to patients who have attended for routine outpatient X-rays.
Tallaght is still operating with an old form of technology and will catch up with other hospitals in the first quarter of next year, which will make voice recognition easier.