Northern Ireland

Family call for Western Health Trust chief to resign

Altnagelvin Hospital
Image caption The Western Trust said staffing problems led to a backlog of 18,500 X-rays at Altnagelvin Hospital

The family of a man who died after a late cancer diagnosis has called on the chief executive of the Western Health Trust to resign.

An independent review examining why thousands of x-rays went unreported, concluded that the health of some patients had been affected.

The Western Trust welcomed the report and accepted its recommendations.

It said systems were now in place to prevent further delays and has addressed the issue of staffing levels.

The report concluded that what happened to seven patients provided key learning points to help reduce risks to patient safety.

The independent review into the backlog of X-ray results in two health trusts concluded that the care and treatment of seven cancer patients was affected.

The review was ordered after it emerged thousands of X-rays went unreported at Altnagelvin and Craigavon hospitals.

The Western Trust said it accepted the report's recommendations whilst the Southern Trust said it welcomed that the report found any delays at Craigavon Hospital had not been detrimental to patient care.

Three patients were treated at Craigavon, the others at Altnagelvin.

One family has called on the Western Trust chief executive to resign.

An 82-year-old Londonderry man died before the review got underway, but the BBC has learned that another man died over a year ago. He had also received a late diagnosis.

The family's solicitor, Cormac McKeone, said the man's children are disappointed at the report's findings.

"The family are very disappointed by what they have read in this report," he said.

"It just confirms their suspicions that there was a breakdown in the management system and they believe that the chief executive of the trust should resign."

Of the three Craigavon patients, the review found that, in one case, the main cause of the delay in X-ray results was due to an administrative error.

Shortfall

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) made a total of 26 recommendations.

Among their conclusions is that there was a shortfall in the number of consultants, because of unfilled posts.

The review was commissioned by the Department of Health in February 2011 following delays in the reporting of X-rays at Altnagelvin and Craigavon hospitals.

It was broken down into two review phases.

The phase-one review, which looked at X-ray reporting systems in all five trusts to ensure that systems were safe, was published in August 2011.

Image caption Elaine Way, the chief executive of the Western Trust, previously said that she would not resign

The second phase of the review, published on Wednesday, examined the circumstances leading to delays in handling and reporting of radiological investigations in the Southern and Western Trusts and how these delays were managed.

During the review, RQIA's review team met with a number of families who described the impact of these delays on their families.

RQIA chief executive Glenn Houston said: "Phase two of the review focused on the circumstances leading to delays in the reporting of plain X-rays in the Western Trust from 2008 to 2010, and in the Southern Trust from 2010 to early 2011.

"The report makes a number of recommendations to enhance patient safety and to improve communication with patients and their families.

"These include the need for a standard policy across Northern Ireland for the reporting on plain X-rays and the need for a regional escalation policy to support trusts unable to sustain reporting levels of plain X-rays."

'Lessons'

Dr David Stewart, RQIA medical director and a member of the review team, said the families they had spoken to during the review "highlighted the need for lessons to be learned" from their experience with problems being dealt with in a transparent and open way.

"The review team recommends that regional guidance should be developed for all HSC organisations to follow in relation to providing information and assistance to patients, families and staff impacted by such incidents.

"The review also highlights the need for all trusts to review and standardise procedures for informing patients about the results of X-rays which require urgent follow up."

The review makes 14 recommendations for improvement, in addition to the 12 recommendations made during phase one of the review, which have all been accepted by Health Minister Edwin Poots.

Western Trust chairman Gerard Guckian said: "To experience any delay in diagnosis is not the standard of care anyone should expect.

"I offer my sincerest apologies to those patients and their families who were affected and I deeply regret the distress caused.

"I can assure the public recommendations from phase two for action by the trust will be taken forward as an immediate priority.

"The trust has already put systems in place to prevent delays in reporting of plain X-rays. The trust has also addressed issues in relation to appropriate staffing levels of consultant radiologists."

Southern Trust chief executive Mairead McAlinden said the report acknowledged that the introduction of a computer system in March 2010 "eliminated the risk of any delays caused by administrative errors".

"All images are now retained on a computer database and delays in reporting can be readily identified," she said.

Mrs McAlinden apologised to any patients affected by delayed results, and said the trust was "working closely with the Regional Health and Social Care Board to address longer term capacity problems".

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