More ‘abnormalities’ could be found in University Hospital Kerry review

Clinical director of Tralee facility says staff shortages not to blame for delayed diagnoses

A ’look back’ process is under way on ’a portion of radiology investigations’. Photograph: Getty

A ’look back’ process is under way on ’a portion of radiology investigations’. Photograph: Getty

 

There may be further missed cancer diagnoses among the 28,000 scans, x-rays and ultrasounds that are yet to be reviewed at Univesity Hospital Kerry, the facility’s clinical director has said.

Dr Claire O’Brien said GPs and consultants had raised issues about the work of the individual at the centre of the review, news of which became public on Sunday. Some 46,000 scans related to about 26,000 patients are being examined as part of a “look back” exercise.

The South/ South West Hospital Group, of which the hospital is a member, confirmed it was investigating patient safety concerns after being notified of the three serious reportable events. The person concerned no longer works at the hospital.

Dr O’Brien said there were some incidents which drew attention but none as serious as the three cancer misdiagnoses which doctors identified in late July.

However, she told Radio Kerry that the public could be reassured that only 21 people needed to be contacted after the examination of some 18,000 scans to date.

“If there are abnormalities identified, these people will be contacted straight away,” she said.

Reputational damage

Dr O’Brien said she was concerned about reputational damage to the hospital which serves Kerry, parts of west and north Cork, and west Limerick. She said the hospital had followed “HSE protocol” in not informing the public of the concerns.

There has been stinging criticism in Kerry from members of the regional health forum over the fact that the public had only been informed a week before Christmas of the review which got underway in October.

Earlier, Dr O’Brien said staffing levels were not to blame for the delayed diagnoses. “Our view is that the department is safe and the service is appropriate”, she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

In a statement, the group said a “look back” process with independent oversight was now under way on “a portion of radiology investigations carried out between March 2016 and July 2017”.

Dr O’Brien said patients who had X-rays, scans and ultrasounds carried out in the hospital between March 2016 and July 2017 were not informed of the “look back” as it was thought the numbers involved would be smaller.

She said the hospital did not want to alarm other patients.

Paul Bell, divisional organiser for Siptu’s health division, said the trade union had expressed concern about staffing levels at University Hospital Kerry in November 2016. He told Morning Ireland their concerns were ignored by the HSE.

Siptu highlighted the shortage in staff, resources, equipment and the way in which the radiology department was being managed.

Calls for transparency

Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman Billy Kelleher said the latest issue with scans had once again raised problems with process and protocol at Irish hospitals.

He said it was alarming that one individual could be responsible for this many scans and asked why was there not more oversight.

“Why were they the responsibility of one individual?” he asked RTÉ’s News at One.

When asked about the HSE’s handling of the issue, Mr Kelleher said he could understand the wish not to alarm patients who had scans, but the HSE needed to investigate its governance and practices.

Sinn Féin’s health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show the HSE needs to be more transparent surrounding its review.

She said it was not acceptable that patients were not informed of the review and were first made aware of it in the media.

“Part of the failings of the HSE, a lot of the time, is that there’s no transparency,” she said.

Cllr Bobby O’Connell, the chair of the HSE south regional health forum, said he first became aware of the review of scans at University Hospital Kerry through media reports.

He told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show he understood that the HSE “didn’t want to cause a stampede” and it was good news that there had been no critical misdiagnoses among the 17,000 X-rays and scans reviewed so far.