Doctors hail new plan to make cancer testing more accurate
A new system is in place to reduce the chance of blunders and misdiagnoses in testing tissue from cancer patients.
A number of high-profile cases over the years have highlighted the risk of tests on a patient's tissue samples being misread in the laboratory.
Some patients were wrongly given the all-clear when in fact they had cancer. The cancer was missed because the results were misread and it was only over time, as the patient deteriorated, that the mistake was discovered.
The new quality assurance programme, developed by the Faculty of Pathology in the Royal College of Physicians, will help narrow the margin of error.
Professor Conor O'Keane, consultant histopathologist at the Mater Hospital, said it would be of benefit in managing the care of patients with breast and bowel cancer, as well as other kinds of disease.
It involves all 25 of the State's laboratories and eight private facilities inputting their results on to a central computer system, which are checked throughout the year.
Laboratories will be able to use the information to monitor their own performance and identify areas for improvement.
He said: "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.
"While participation in the programme is voluntary, I am delighted that all histopathology laboratories in Ireland, from both private and public hospitals, have elected to take part."
Dr Niall Swan, consultant histopathologist at St Vincent's Hospital, described it as " 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."
The results to date show that most laboratories are meeting the standard to have results ready in about five days.
They also show that laboratories got the results right in 97pc of the cases in 2012 – where surgeons sent a patient's tissue for testing while they were on the operating table to find out it if was clear or malignant.
The international benchmark for correct diagnosis is 97pc.