Health bosses at the Western Trust have come under fire after four patients were told they had cancer months after having an X-ray and being sent home from hospital.
A shortage of radiologists in the Western Trust led to a backlog of 18,500 X-rays — including 3,400 chest X-rays — which were left in storage without being examined by a specialist.
The trust said the backlog had now been cleared.
It also apologised to the patients affected.
A large number of the X-rays were examined by doctors who ordered them but none were followed up a radiologist. It is not known whether the doctors who ordered the X-rays of the four patients diagnosed with cancer saw the results of the scans.
It has emerged that while a significant backlog in reporting plain X-ray film at Altnagelvin Hospital developed early last year, health bosses only moved to address the problem in July.
Tommy Gallagher, a member of the Stormont health committee, said: “I have no idea how they got to the point of having 18,500 X-rays without anyone noticing.
“It is clear there has been a serious failure somewhere in the system. Someone is responsible for that system and should be held to account. What has happened is inexcusable and I would like a further investigation to find out how this was allowed to happen.”
The delayed diagnosis for four people suffering from cancer came to light as a result of a high level review into governance at the trust.
Findings of the review stated: “The review found the backlog of unreported X-rays developed due to capacity in terms of radiologists, increasing workload, equipment issues and the trust’s focus on other radiological priorities.”
Chairman of the Western Trust, Gerard Guckian, said: “The trust developed a plan to clear the backlog. This included staff working overtime and the use of the independent sector. As a result, backlog was cleared by October 2010.
“Currently all non-urgent chest X-rays are reported within 14 days and all other plain films within 28 days. The trust has established that four patients had a delay in receiving their diagnosis. All patients and their families have been advised and the trust unreservedly apologises for the delay.”
Meanwhile, Dr Anne Kilgallen, medical director at the trust, has admitted mistakes were made.
“As a doctor, when a patient does not receive a proper service I regard that as something has gone wrong,” she said.
“I can never give an absolute assurance no-one will make mistakes, but it is our duty to learn when something goes wrong, to make procedures more robust and that is what we have done.”
Dr Tom Black, deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s Northern Ireland General Practitioner’s Committee, said the situation demonstrated the need for investment in resources.
“This is very concerning and highlights the need to ensure that health service work is done to the highest standards. This requires investment in staff and equipment.”