A 'Systematic' Failure: 48,000 X-rays Not Been Reviewed By a Specialist Radiologist in Gold Coast Public Hospitals

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An African migrant holds an X-ray at a detention center in Libya June 1, 2014 Reuters

About 48,000 X-rays taken at public hospitals at the Gold Coast since 2013 were not reviewed by a specialist radiologist. The backlog at the Gold Coast and Robina hospitals have been worked on to be reduced by the Gold Coast Hospitals and Health Service for the last six months but in vain. On July 10, the board realised the magnitude of the problem.

The X-rays were examined by radiographers and treating specialists but not by ones who had to check them, a specialist radiologist. The health service has said that though the risk for patients concerned is low, at least two have suffered adverse effects as a result of the failure.

Dr Greg Slater from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists said that it is likely more than two patients have been adversely affected, and that there is a potential for fatal outcomes. He continued that if a cancer is missed, there is always a concern it could grow and spread and that there's a whole myriad of potential ramifications and outcomes for a missed and delayed diagnosis.

Colette McCool, the patient safety spokeswoman for the board, said, "About 22,000 X-rays have been earmarked for priority review. In having the films reviewed by a specialist radiologist, what we are looking for is any secondary diagnoses that might be evident to an image reading expert. A secondary diagnosis might be missing a secondary fracture or perhaps an enlarged heart."

The board's chief executive, Ron Calvert, said that previous efforts to fix the problem had failed and that their efforts to remedy the situation have stumbled. He continued that they make mistakes and that their job is to make sure when they make these mistakes they are open and transparent about it and they learn from it and improve.

Lawrence Springborg, health minister, has asked for an immediate investigation. The investigation might take about three months. He remarked that he'd been advised the problem was isolated to the Gold Coast, but the inquiry would look at checking procedures across the state.

He explained that external checks would be carried out, at least in the short to medium term, to make sure all X-rays taken at the Gold Coast University and Robina hospitals are properly checked and that delays and backlogs in this system cannot be permitted.

Slater explained that the problems with proper reviewing of X-rays have existed for several years and that it's possible it's happening in other hospitals in Queensland. He noted that radiologists were the only specialists trained to diagnose a wide range of medical problems from X-ray imaging.

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