Ireland introduces first quality assurance programme for patient tissue samples

Data generated from the system, collected over a two-year period, shows gradual improvement in performance

Ireland has become the first country to introduce, on a national level, a quality assurance programme which centrally monitors the practices involved in analysing patient tissue samples for diseases including breast and bowel cancer.

Data generated from the system, collected over a two-year period from October 2011 and developed by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) working group, was published last week.

These are the first results from the histopathology quality assurance programme, part of the national quality assurance intelligence system (NQAIS) which generates national reports on the accuracy of diagnostic testing from hospital laboratories.

The system was developed following a number of high-profile cancer misdiagnoses between 2006 and 2007 including that of Rebecca O’Malley, whose misdiagnosis of breast cancer prompted a wider investigation into such incidents.


Histopathology is a specialty of medicine which allows for the diagnosis of diseases, including cancer, by examining tissue samples.

The programme aims to monitor and standardise on a national basis test results of tissue samples; to improve the timeliness of necessary treatments; and to improve patient confidence in the diagnosis of diseases including cancer.

National trends
Under the system each hospital compares the statistics being generated from its laboratory with anonymised national trends allowing them to monitor their own performance and take action as required with the aim that errors will be identified more quickly and ultimately reduced.

“When people see data like this and see that their lab is below the national average . . . that will motivate people to improve,” said Prof Conor O’Keane, consultant histopathologist at the Mater hospital and a member of the RCPI working group.

He said that the data published yesterday had already shown a gradual improvement in performance.