Belfast Telegraph

Late X-ray hospital 'short-staffed'

Too few permanent radiologists are working at a Northern Ireland health trust where thousands of X-rays were processed late, and they are working with inappropriate equipment, an official has revealed.

A UK-wide shortage of staff is hampering efforts to recruit specialist staff, added the head of the Western Health and Social Care Trust.

It took 10 months to clear a backlog of around 18,500 X-rays at Altnagelvin hospital in 2010. Four cancer patients received a late diagnosis and one man later died.

Trust chief executive Elaine Way said: "The radiologists we have are working very hard and are working at the appropriate standard but there are not enough of them and the equipment is not fit for purpose."

A second CT (Computerised Tomography) scanner is about to arrive, the trust is also planning for an additional MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanner but additional permanent radiologists are required.

She told Stormont's Health Committee there was a shortage of radiologists across the UK. At Altnagelvin two senior members of staff retired in June 2008. By July last year the trust was notified that there had been a serious adverse incident in which a patient was reported with cancer which had not been detected.

Ms Way added: "We cannot manufacture 17 radiologists, we cannot put the equipment in overnight but we have made strident efforts to do that."

At the time when the backlog was at its peak there were seven permanent posts out of an equivalent workforce of 17.5. The trust paid temporary locums because of the unfilled positions. The trust has apologised for the delays.

A performance review into the Western Health Trust was called by Northern Ireland's Health and Social Care Board last year following a litany of failings.

High profile cases include the McElhill Family tragedy, the death of toddler Millie Martin, the Donagh child sex abuse scandal and the failure to deliver home care packages to more than 200 elderly patients. The review also highlighted failings in meeting breast cancer referral deadlines.

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