58,000 x-rays were not reviewed in Tallaght hospital

The Health Service Executive (HSE) finds itself in the midst of another scandal tonight following revelations that approximately 58,000 x-rays taken in Tallaght hospital were never reviewed by a consultant radiologist.

This follows on from controversies regarding the deaths of children in HSE care and consistent failures to properly vet prospective foster parents, particularly in the Dublin and Cork regions.

The failure to review the x-rays, which were taken over a four year period, led to a delayed diagnosis for at least two patients. One of these patients has since died, with the other currently being treated for cancer.

Professor Kevin Conlon, who became chief executive of Tallaght hospital in December 2009, said in a statement that the situation is "totally unacceptable" and was due to "systemic and process failure" in Tallaght hospital.

This revelation is the latest in a series of delayed diagnoses and misdiagnoses of x-rays in hospitals thoughout Ireland in the past several years. Indeed, it is astonishing that such a prolonged and widescale failure was allowed to happen through the very period that high-profile failures in other hospitals occurred.

The HSE itself promptly issued a response to the fiasco saying that it is making "every possible effort to expedite this process to minimise any anxiety that [it] may cause to patients who were x-rayed at the hospital prior to September 2009".

Opposition parties were quick to issue responses to the situation.

Fine Gael's spokesperson on health, Dr. James Reilly, said in a statement: "The sheer volume and period of time during which X-rays were not reviewed by a consultant radiologist is astounding...[t]he volume of tests involved and the period of time involved suggest a severe system failure." He called for the release of more detailed information on the case.

Labour's Jan O'Sullivan called the situation "shocking". She said: "We had been assured that the sort of systemic failures that came to light in earlier years had ended...the health and welfare of patients has again been put at risk by a systems failure that should never have been allowed to happen."

Sinn Féin's health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin called on Minister of Health Mary Harney to "initiate an urgent review of management and supervision of consultants at Tallaght and throughout the hospital network". He also called for a Dáil debate on the issue.

This fiasco heaps further pressure on both Harney and the HSE following on from what was a particularly tumultuous week. 

The full text of the HSE's statement:

"The HSE is aware of the planned process underway at Tallaght hospital to deal with the backlog of 57,921 adult x-rays to ensure that these x-rays are read by a consultant radiologist.

To date the hospital has completed the reading of 34,752 x-rays with a balance of 23,169 x-rays, relating to approximately 14,000 patients, have yet to be read by a consultant radiologist. Tallaght hospital had a projected date of completion of this process of May 2010.

The HSE will be meeting with Tallaght hospital tomorrow to consider the options in relation to bringing this process to a conclusion as quickly as possible. The HSE, in conjunction with the hospital, will be making every possible effort to expedite this process to minimise any anxiety that this may cause to patients who were x-rayed at the hospital prior to September 2009."

Tallaght Hospital has also set up a freephone helpline for all those who may be affected by this issue. It can be reached at 1800 283 059 and is open from 9am to 5pm from tomorrow.