Press Release

Statement by the Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney, T.D.- Tallaght Hospital Services

The central and over-riding priority in all aspects of health care, in every hospital, at every meeting and in every last detail of administration is the interest of patients.

Patients’ interests and standards of care must come first. For that reason the review of unread X-rays is being given top priority by the hospital. The investigation of circumstances that gave rise to this situation will be fully addressed through the independent review announced by the HSE.

Today, at my instruction, the most senior officials involved, the Secretary General of my Department and Chief Medical Officer, the HSE’s Dr Barry White, HIQA’s Director of Healthcare Quality and Safety Dr Jon Billings and the CEO of the Hospital, Professor Kevin Conlon, have met and have reported to me the following:

The review of just over 23,000 of outstanding X-rays is being completed as fast as humanly and physically possible. Every avenue has been explored to ensure that this is the case. Additional radiology consultants are working alongside the permanent staff of the hospital to clear the backlog. I have been assured that there is no question of the reading of X-rays being held up now for want of qualified clinicians to read them. The review will be completed in approximately ten weeks.

During the review, any patient who needs any further service will be contacted immediately and any necessary services will be provided to them.

I am advised that the level of risk for remaining cases to be reviewed is low.

The leadership of radiology in the country advises that in certain circumstances, it may be appropriate clinical practice for certain x-rays to be read by the attending clinician without the need for follow-up reporting by a radiologist. To reflect this, formal clinical protocols at a national level are being developed by the HSE in conjunction with the Faculty of Radiology. This practice may already be in place in some hospitals and there will be a value in formalising this on a national basis.

The HSE has already contacted all other public hospitals to ensure that there are no other backlogs of inappropriately unreported X-rays. This process is ongoing and in line with patient safety protocols, in fairness to all concerned and primarily so as not to cause patients unnecessary worry, the HSE will bring this review to fruition before making public any definitive conclusions about the position nationally.

The HSE’s review of radiology practice at the hospital will be independently chaired and carried out speedily and thoroughly by a group comprising appropriate experts and will receive the full co-operation of everyone involved.

It is completely unacceptable that referral letters from GPs could remain unopened. While there are waiting times for outpatient appointments, these should not be prolonged by virtue of GP referral letters not being opened and processed according to clinical requirements.

While there were, in the past, unopened letters, Prof Conlon and his staff have been doing all possible to ensure all referrals are being processed appropriately. As a result, there are now no unopened letters. The HSE, Tallaght hospital and the DoHC have agreed to work together to ensure that any patient whose letter may have been unopened will be provided with an appropriate service fully in accordance with their clinical priority.

I understand that the hospital is meeting with local GPs tomorrow as part of an ongoing process to improve access to clinics.

The hospital free phone lines (1800 283059 and 1800 283293 open 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday) are operational and all who contact the hospital will be reassured as appropriate regarding any X-rays concerning them.

The Secretary General of the Department of Health and Children, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Barry White, HSE, Dr Jon Billings, HIQA and Professor Kevin Conlon CEO of the hospital are meeting again tomorrow (Friday) to assess the position and ensure fastest possible progress on the work at the hospital and HSE review of this situation.