A Northern Ireland health trust has announced it is to review more than 13,000 radiology images of patients following concerns about the work of a locum consultant radiologist.
The Northern Trust confirmed that it has commenced a "lookback review" into radiology image reporting completed by the radiologist, who had been engaged by the trust between July 2019 and February 2020.The
The review will see 9,091 patients being contacted over coming days and relates to 13,030 radiology images reported on by the radiologist.
Dr Seamus O'Reilly, medical director at the Northern Trust told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme that the General Medical Council raised concerns about the radiologist’s work during a meeting and added that he believes she is “still working in the UK”.
The trust said less than 7% of the patients may have received a delayed diagnosis as a result of "unsatisfactory image reporting".
Dr O'Reilly said: "Following concerns raised by the General Medical Council, I requested that a small sample of 30 CT scans that had been reported on by this particular locum radiologist be reviewed.
"As a result of that audit, the trust has decided to undertake a full review of all radiology reports issued by the locum consultant radiologist during their time with the trust."
Dr O'Reilly added: "Each year in the trust we report on over 300,000 radiology images. This review concerns 13,030 images which were reported on by this one radiologist during the period July 2019 to February 2020.
"All of those images would have been taken in Antrim Area Hospital, Causeway Hospital, Whiteabbey Hospital, Mid Ulster Hospital or the Ballymena Health and Care Centre. No other hospitals or healthcare facilities are involved.
"We have written to 9,091 patients or the parents/guardians, where appropriate, to make them aware of the review.
"Those letters were all posted first class and should start arriving today and over the next few days. If people do not receive a letter, it means that their images are not included in the review.
"We appreciate that this will be a worrying and anxious time for those who do receive a letter. I would stress that all of the images relating to the 9,091 patients will be reviewed, but based on our initial audit, we estimate that less than 7% may have experienced a delay in diagnosis as a result of unsatisfactory image reporting.
"That does not mean that they will all have come to harm as a result but we will be making a further clinical assessment in each of those cases."
Dr O'Reilly said: "Patients who receive the letter do not need to take any action. We plan to run the review and recall stages of this process in tandem.
"This means that every patient will be contacted again as soon as we know the outcome in relation to their images and for those who may require further imaging or a follow-up appointment, we will make the necessary arrangements very quickly."
The Alliance Party’s south Belfast MLA Paula Bradshaw said the situation has left patients in a “vulnerable and anxious” position
“What we are seeing in the Northern Trust has been brought about due to a health system creaking under extreme pressure. Too much work for too many health care professionals, not enough resources and energy put into ensuring a service – in this case radiology – is fit for purpose, and some patients who have been let down and now face potentially worse health and well-being now and into the future,” she said.
“I would urge the Northern Trust to do all it can to ensure patients are called forward as diligently as possible and communication channels are robust. To those radiologists who will be under even more pressure in the coming months, as part of the review, we thank you.”
The SDLP’s Cara Hunter added: “My thoughts are with all the patients caught up in this review at what must be a very worrying time for them and their families.
"Comments from Northern Trust Medical Director Seamus O’Reilly that patients may have experienced a delay in diagnosis are particularly alarming.
“Questions must be asked around how this locum consultant continued to be engaged by the Northern Trust for such a long period and when did concerns first emerge around their work.”
The review into the concerns commenced in the week beginning June 21 and it is expected to be complete by the end of October 2021.
The trust said it is being carried out by a "qualified and experienced external provider".
A helpline and dedicated email address has been established for anyone who receives a letter and is particularly concerned.
Freephone number 0800 023 4377 has been set up and can be called from 8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 10am-4pm Saturday and Sunday and public holidays. The dedicated email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.