The Health Minister has apologised for a life-threatening failure which led to four patients receiving late cancer diagnoses — but he has ruled out further investigation into the blunder.
At least one person has died and another is terminally ill with lung cancer after staff shortages in the Western Trust led to a backlog of 18,500 X-rays.
Michael McGimpsey said he could not comment on the individual experiences of the four patients caught up in the latest scandal to hit the Western Trust.
But he said: “I am very sorry that some patients and their |families suffered the additional anxiety that these delayed |diagnoses brought.”
He added: “The issue of delay in reporting radiological investigations in the Western Trust has already been thoroughly reviewed by both the Health and Social Care Board, the Public Health Agency and by an independent team of experts from the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. Therefore I currently have no plans for further investigation into this issue.
“I am confident that measures that have now been put in place will ensure that a similar incident will not happen again. All patients who have had a recent radiological investigation at Altnagelvin can be assured that their X-rays will have been assessed promptly and appropriate clinical action taken.”
However, a prominent Northern Ireland doctor has said more needs to be done to address public concerns, while the deputy chair of the Stormont health committee said she is stunned the Western Trust has been unable to provide basic information about the X-ray service.
Dr Brian Dunn, chair of the British Medical Association’s Northern Ireland General Practitioner’s committee, said: “It does seem an absolute mess and you wonder how a backlog of 18,500 |X-rays was allowed to build up. I have never seen anything like this in my career.
“I don’t think it is a matter |of sacking one individual. This has been a process that has |gone wrong. I think the Western Trust owes the people in that area an explanation so they can be |reassured nothing like this will happen again.
“It is very easy to say that |they made a mistake and it won’t happen again but I don’t think public confidence will be restored until we know the exact findings of any review.”
Dr Dunn also said the Western Trust is failing people living in the North West by refusing to |discuss important details about the issue, such as the length of time the four patients waited between having an X-ray and being recalled to hospital.
He rejected claims that the trust cannot discuss such details due to patient confidentiality.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MLA Michelle O’Neill has revealed that Elaine Wray, chief executive |of the Western Trust, will appear before the Stormont health |committee tomorrow.
She said: “There are a lot of unanswered questions. We still don’t even know how this was allowed to happen in the first place. This is one of the biggest failings in the health service and we haven’t heard from the chief executive of the Trust.”