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HEALTH Minister Mary Harney has revealed she knew of problems with X-rays at Tallaght hospital nearly three months ago.

The hospital is at the centre of a fresh medical scandal after revelations nearly 58,000 X-rays were not properly reviewed.

Ms Harney admitted today she was informed of the problem on December 15, though she was not aware of the scale of it until yesterday.

And she insisted the scandal was not a resigning matter for her. The X-rays, taken over a four-year period, were not read by a consultant radiologist at Tallaght.

Two patients received a delayed diagnosis as a result of the blunder, one of whom died last summer. The second patient is seriously ill and undergoing cancer treatment at the hospital.

Thousands of patients are waiting to hear if there is a doubt over their X-rays, which were taken between 2005 and late 2009.

The hospital said 57,921 X-rays for adult patients were supposed to be reviewed by a radiologist but were not.

Instead, they were only read by doctors who may have missed vital information about their patients' diagnoses.

The HSE was meeting management at the hospital today to discuss how a review of the remaining X-rays can be completed as soon as possible.

The health organisation said Dr Barry White, the executive's National Director of Quality and Clinical Care, and Dr Risteard O Laoide, consultant radiologist at St Vincent's Hospital, were attending the meeting. The hospital's chief executive designate Professor Kevin Conlon said he only became aware of the problem when he was appointed on December 14 last.

He said: "This is totally unacceptable and it arose from systemic and process failures."

Prof Conlon said the hospital has appointed a new head of the department of radiology and would interview 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," 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.

"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 entirely by May."

He said it was to the hospital's "deep regret" that two patients have had a delayed diagnosis as a result of the error. Prof Conlon said he was informed yesterday of the death of one of the patients and he is "pursuing the matter with urgency".

He said the risk to patients whose X-rays remained to be read by a radiologist was very low. The X-rays in question were for patients being treated for cancer and orthopaedic and heart complaints.

The hospital chief said a number of factors appear to have contributed to the mistake, including the workload of the radiologists at the hospital.

Ms Harney said she was informed by Prof Conlon about the problems at Tallaght's radiology department on December 15.

She said, when the information came into the public domain yesterday, "we knew of the scale of it".

"When a review is under way, I leave it to the reviewers. I don't meddle as a minister in these matters nor is it appropriate for me to do so," the minister said on RTE's Morning Ireland.

When asked would she resign, she said: "If a radiologist doesn't report on X-rays in a hospital you cannot seriously believe that that is a matter which the minister has direct personal responsibility for."

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

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