It is with great concern that I have read reports this week suggesting that as many as 11,000 x-rays went unreported on at UK hospital Trust, potentially putting patients at risk by delaying required treatment.
Media reports surfaced claiming that Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust failed to assess and write up the results of scans used to diagnose the health problems of more than 10,000 patients at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, the Worcestershire Royal Hospital and Kidderminster Hospital.
Put simply, x-rays were being requested and taken, and although no doubt looked it by a clinician, final results and conclusions were not recorded after close inspection by a radiologist – the person most qualified to assess them and most likely to spot any areas of concern others may miss.
In our work handling medical negligence compensation claims at Hudgell Solicitors, we know all too well how important it is for all x-rays to be closely studied by the appropriate medical staff and reported on as soon as possible at all times.
Late diagnosis of conditions can have huge impact on patient’s future health
Serious conditions can often be missed by the naked eye when x-rays are first assessed, even by very experienced doctors.
In supporting many families in misdiagnosis or late diagnosis compensation claims, our teams of specialist solicitors see all too often how an individual’s chances of recovery from serious conditions can be badly affected by the shortest of delays in accessing relevant treatment.
The revelations at this Trust, which cares for patients across Worcestershire and the wider West Midlands, including Birmingham, followed an unannounced Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection, and led to interim chief medical officer Andrew Short quickly issuing a statement.
“The backlog is composed of mainly routine x-rays requested by our hospital medical staff which are then made available to the referring clinician for review and action,” he stressed.
“Historically, these were not reported by a radiologist, and today we have put a new process in place to ensure that those x-rays that need the back-up of a radiology report in a timely way.
“There is no backlog of GP requested x-rays, CT, MRI or ultrasound scans. We have always and will continue to prioritise urgent x-rays, chest x-rays and GP requested x-rays, and there is no backlog in these areas.”
Words intended to allay concern but patients will require complete assurance that nothing has been missed on those x-rays and that steps are taken to ensure the x-rays are reviewed swiftly.
Whilst the x-rays are described as ‘routine’, hospital policy is that further, detailed assessment and reporting should be carried out. This policy has failed and it is unclear how any why this backlog has been allowed to occur.
Mr Short refers to the backlog as ‘mainly’ routine x-rays but the implication is that more serious matters may potentially have also fallen through the system and it is vital these are identified as a matter of priority.
A report in the Birmingham Mail suggested the CQC has criticised the Trust for having carried out no risk assessment of the potential harm to patients caused by these delays.
It also suggests the CQC was concerned ‘urgent’ scans were not always prioritised, meaning some GPs were not receiving patient results for more than two weeks. It all points to too many opportunities for mistakes to be made.
Failings are often due to poor systems and procedures, not skills of medical staff
Whilst the report from the CQC is awaited, there has clearly been a serious failure by the hospital Trust to follow their own practice and procedure.
Doctors, nurses and specialists often work under intense pressure, with the lives of others in their hands on a day-to-day basis.
We appreciate the fantastic job the huge majority on the NHS frontline do and accept and understand that human error and mistakes will occur
However, what cannot be accepted is basic procedures not being followed. This puts patients’ health at risk and is completely avoidable.
Changes need to be made to ensure this does not happen again.