Belfast Telegraph

Exposed: the poor upkeep of machines at Northern Ireland hospitals

By Lisa Smyth

Patient safety has been put at risk as health trusts across Northern Ireland failed to ensure vital hospital equipment was being maintained, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The equipment in question includes blood analysers, radiology and colorectal nursing devices.

The Business Services Organisation (BSO) carried out an audit of service and maintenance contracts in 2010/11 and found a series of startling failures.

In addition to putting staff and patients at risk, the BSO inspections identified failings which it said left the health trusts open to fraud, legal challenges, financial loss and the potential for damaging publicity.

The findings were at a time when health bosses were slashing the health budget leading to soaring hospital waiting lists.

The audits of Belfast, Southern, South Eastern and Northern trusts raised concerns there was a “considerable risk that the system will fail to meet objectives”.

Last year, the Belfast Telegraph revealed a series of similar shortcomings in the Western Health and Social Care Trust.

The BSO looked at each trust and found deficiencies across the board.

In the South Eastern Trust neither laboratories nor estates performed monitoring on cost accuracy, frequency of services or response times associated with maintenance contracts.

Blood analyser machines received only one service during 2009/10 rather than the two specified under contract.

This was because the bill for the previous service for each machine had not been paid.

There was no maintenance contract for colorectal equipment.

At Belfast Trust the estates department did not formally monitor the number of service visits on medical and non-medical equipment nor that work was done to an appropriate standard.

The audit also found evidence contractors had expired insurance certificates on file or inadequate cover as per the contract, which meant they may not have sufficient insurance cover in the event of legal proceedings.

At the Southern Trust there was no formal monitoring to ensure all services on medical and non-medical equipment took place.

A number of significant contracts, including Craigavon medical contracts of £462,000, were paid up front and there was no formal monitoring to ensure services had taken place and that payment was accurate.

At the Northern Trust there was no checking in place for radiology and laboratory maintenance to ensure work was carried out.

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