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Thousands still in the dark over X-ray scandal

MORE than 14,000 patients of a Dublin hospital have yet to be told if there is a question mark over their X-rays.

It follows the revelation last night that nearly 58,000 X-rays in Tallaght Hospital in Dublin were not read by radiologists over a four-year period. Instead, they were only read by doctors who may have missed vital information about their patients' diagnoses.

Experts said it was essential that radiologists read an X-ray to detect illnesses which might not be visible to the treating doctor.

Hospital chief executive Kevin Conlon admitted last night that one person, whose X-ray was not properly read, died last summer.

Professor Conlon said he only found out at 4.30pm yesterday about the death of the patient and then spoke to the family.

He said the risk to patients whose X-rays remained to be read by a radiologist was very low and they mostly concerned orthopaedic X-rays, which would have been dealt with by the patient's treating doctor.

Several factors appear to have contributed to the X-rays going unread, including the workload of the radiologists at the hospital, he added.

A second patient whose X-rays had not been read by a radiologist was undergoing treatment for cancer, Prof Conlon added.

The X-rays were carried out on patients being treated for cancer and orthopaedic and heart ailments.

The hospital was under fire last night for finding out about the backlog of unread X-rays in December but failing to make it public.

It is the latest in a series of high-profile hospital blunders in recent years, some of which cost lives. The X-rays were of adult patients only. A spokesperson for the hospital said it decided not to make an announcement so as not to worry patients.

Prof Conlon said 34,752 of the X-rays had been reviewed and another 23,169 belonging to about 14,000 patients had yet to be re-checked.

Only the relatives of the deceased patient and the person who is undergoing treatment for cancer have been told about the scandal.

The hospital was unable to say how the malpractice went on for so long and why it was not picked up earlier.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) was also unable to say why it failed to make it public in December. A spokesman said officials would be meeting with hospital management today to bring the process to a speedy conclusion.

A hospital spokesperson confirmed last night that nobody had been suspended and it only came to light in December when the new chief executive took over and discovered the backlog.

Prof Conlon, previously a specialist in pancreatic cancer at the hospital, said: "The majority of X-rays would have been reviewed by a non-radiologist.

"Nevertheless, this is totally unacceptable and it arose from systemic and process failures.

"To clear this backlog, I immediately arranged for the hiring of extra consultants and additional administrative and technical support," he said.

"We have appointed a new head of the department of radiology and we are interviewing next week for a new clinical director in diagnostics. In addition, a new permanent consultant radiologist was appointed in January and we furthermore sought approval from the HSE for a further two consultant radiologist positions.

"Every patient who has an X-ray at Tallaght Hospital has a report generated from a consultant radiologist. There are no unreported X-rays from September 2009," he said.

"I now receive a weekly report on progress which just shows a backlog today reduced by 34,752 to 23,169. The backlog will be cleared by May."

The hospital has set up a freephone helpline for concerned patients at 1800 283059.

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