Royal Victoria Hospital: X-rays

Health, Social Services and Public Safety – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 25th June 2012.

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Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker 3:30 pm, 25th June 2012

The Chairperson of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Ms Sue Ramsey, has given notice of a question for urgent oral answer to the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

Photo of Sue Ramsey Sue Ramsey Sinn Féin

asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety what action he will take to ensure that the 17,000 X-rays taken at the Royal Victoria Hospital, which were not reported on by an appropriate clinician, will now be assessed urgently in order to ensure patient safety.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I regret any distress or anxiety caused to patients and their families affected by the backlog of unreported X-rays at the Royal Victoria Hospital. I am advised by the Health and Social Care Board, which has been working closely with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, that urgent actions are in hand to address the backlog, including arrangements to increase radiological capacity through the use of external providers in addition to trust staff. I am informed that the backlog is likely to be cleared in early August. My Department will be seeking assurances from the HSCB and the Public Health Agency that relevant X-rays have been reported on by an appropriate clinician and that no further backlogs exist.

Photo of Sue Ramsey Sue Ramsey Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for his answer. This is deeply concerning, and it is important that we all have a duty to reassure people that, up until this point, they will get urgent care and that X-rays will be looked at urgently. Minister, I am concerned that this follows similar incidents in a number of other trusts. You asked the RQIA to report on that, and the Belfast Trust said that, at that time, it had no X-rays that were unreported. Over the weekend, we have seen that that was clearly not the case and that 17,000 X-rays had not been reported. I would like to know where they were.

Was the information that the Belfast Trust gave to the RQIA and which, in turn, was given to you, accurate? If it is a fact that the Belfast Trust gave the RQIA inaccurate information in a specially commissioned report for you, how can we take that assurance today and the assurance of the Belfast Trust and other trusts so that we can reassure our constituents that things are working, and working well?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

We could possibly answer some of the questions, and we could speculate on some of them. We have sought to carry out a root-cause analysis of what has happened. I understand that, earlier this year, a new departmental head instigated a course of work, looking at X-rays. It was not something that would have immediately sprung to mind in terms of what had actually happened. It was only on having that critical research that it was identified that a number of X-rays had been unreported. Once that was revealed, further courses of work were done that identified that the number was just short of 19,500.

Clearly, a system failure took place. In this instance, I do not think that there was any deliberate attempt to mislead anyone, but it is another embarrassing issue that Belfast Trust is having to deal with. We will try to support and assist it in dealing with it, because it is important that everyone has the assurance that their X-rays have been read and that no one has suffered as a consequence. Of the first 1,800 that have been analysed, from 2011-12, it has been found that there was no adverse impact on individuals as a result. That is good news. Many of the X-rays were on parts of the body where other tests and examinations have been carried out in conjunction, so we will have to see what the outcome is. It is important that, in the next six to eight weeks, we get this work conducted as quickly as possible to enable us to move forward and give the public that assurance.