Hospital oversight

Lack of thorough examination in x-rays leads to severe criticism of hospital administration.

It has recently emerged that nearly 58,000 x-rays of adult patients were never read by a consultant radiologist at Tallaght Hospital over a five-year period. This inaction has led to tragic consequences including delayed diagnoses for two patients, one of whom has since died. The hospital initially stated that the number of unread x-rays was thought to be around 700; it wasn’t until 14th December 2009 that a report ordered by Professor Kevin Conlon, CEO-designate of the Dublin hospital, showed the true number of the unreported X-rays to be an astonishingly high figure of 57,921. Additionally, thousands of GP referral letters have gone unopened, leading to major delays for patients.
Professor Tom O’Dowd, a public health specialist at Trinity College Dublin, was the first GP to alert the hospital to the x-ray referral problems, last April. However Lyndon McCann, chairman of the Adelaide, Meath and National Children’s hospital, denies receiving O’Dowd’s letter of concern until 10th March 2010, despite the letter being stamped as “received” by the Chief Executive’s office on 27th April 2009. In a statement released on 11th March 2010, a Tallaght hospital representative said: “There are no unopened letters in Tallaght Hospital. There is no backlog of referral letters for either adult or paediatric services.” This miscommunication exemplifies the disorganisation that evidently has permeated the hospital at the cost of its patients’ health.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has said that Minister for Health Mary Harney, who was in New Zealand on a St. Patrick‘s Day trip, should be “fired”. Despite her willingness to deal with the issue while abroad and her assertion that a review of the x-rays will be completed in ten weeks, Fine Gael spokesperson Dr. James Reilly said Minister Harney is sending all the wrong messages by not being here to deal with the crisis, and that the backlog could have been tackled within a month if the Minister had instructed the HSE to outsource the work. “The state and its agent Tallaght Hospital have failed their patients,” said Reilly. “They must act immediately to address that.”
Since the crisis has come to light, the hospital’s board members have agreed that reforms are necessary. Charlie O’Connor, local TD and member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, demanded that the HSE appoint a respected individual to the current board and continue to have a representative on the new board after their failure to appoint a member to the previous board of management at the hospital despite being entitled to do so. Lyndon McCann said that there would be a new post created for a director of quality and changes would also be made to “modernise” how the facility is run.
The HSE has confirmed that it will make all of its hospitals verify that they do not have similar problems to Tallaght’s delays in reviewing x-rays. It remains to be seen whether this crisis will produce a valuable lesson or just another dust-gathering report.