From experience I know that a person’s chances of recovering from lung cancer can be adversely affected by delay in treatment. I find it deeply concerning to read reports this week about an NHS Trust which failed to spot cases because it did not properly check the chest X-rays of patients.
Shockingly, up to 23,000 x-rays went unchecked by an appropriately trained physician – putting thousands of people at risk by potentially delaying required treatment.
According to national media reports, the failings of Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth only came to light after a visit by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in July.
During their visit to the hospital in Cosham, inspectors from the CQC found a total backlog of 23,000 chest X-rays that had not been checked correctly. Worryingly, the X-rays taken during the preceding 12 months had not been formally reviewed by an appropriately-trained clinician.
It has also emerged that junior doctors had complained about being asked to carry out specialist radiology work even though they had not been properly trained.
The impact of a delayed diagnosis can be devastating
As a solicitor who acts for the victims of medical negligence, I am fully aware of how important it is for all X-rays to be closely studied by the appropriate medical staff and their findings reported on as soon as possible.
Serious conditions like cancer can be missed when X-rays are first assessed – even if they have been reviewed by very experienced doctors. A radiologist is the person best qualified to assess an X-ray because they have received specialist training and are most likely to spot any areas of concern that others may miss.
In my experience, early detection is vital. Even a slightly-delayed diagnosis can have a huge impact on a patient’s future health. In some cases, it can harm their chances of making a full recovery.
The way these X-rays have been handled by Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth is totally unacceptable. Unfortunately, this negligent behaviour has already resulted in devastating consequences with three patients suffering ‘significant harm’ as a result, two of whom have died.
Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust has issued an unreserved apology to the families of the patients known to have been affected by these delays in care. But the pain and suffering they’ve endured may have been preventable and completely unnecessary. Knowing that only makes the circumstances more difficult.
How many more people could be affected?
Unfortunately, and worryingly for other patients who counted on this NHS Trust to handle their care, it also raises questions about how many more people may be affected. Some people still may not know that they are.
We can understand that mistakes and human error will occur. But what cannot be accepted is a failure to follow basic procedures, putting the health of patients at risk when it is completely avoidable.
Only last year I reported on a failure by Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust to have more than 10,000 x-rays reviewed by a radiologist. It is extremely worrying that similar problems have arisen at another Trust.
Having supported countless families who have been affected by misdiagnosis or late diagnosis with compensation claims, I know how hard it can be to get their life back on track.
Hopefully, lessons will be learned from these failures in Portsmouth to ensure this never happens again.
What should you do if you’re a victim of this hospital failure?
The Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust have set up a free phone helpline – 0800 7837118 – for concerned patients to contact them on