Radiology scan delays impacting patient outcomes

A recent review of radiology services by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has found huge variations in the speed of radiology services across NHS Trusts, raising concern about the potential impact on overall patient care and patient outcomes as a result.

The review was completed by the CQC after serious concerns were raised at 3 NHS Trusts in England, in these instances there was a significant delay in the amount of time that the radiology services were taking and it was thought that this could have an adverse impact on patients. The delays in reporting could have led to patients pursuing a delayed diagnosis claim should their health have suffered because of the delays. In addition, it was thought that a number of diagnoses were missed or were incorrect due to inadequately trained staff interpreting the images, raising concerns over the number of misdiagnosis claims as a result.

CQC contacted 170 NHS Trusts across England in order to ascertain the timeliness and governance of radiology reporting. Radiology services include X-rays, CT scans and MRI scans and it is thought that there were 42 million examinations carried out on patients in England throughout 2016/2017.

Findings from the review highlight that there are significant variations in the amount of time that each trust is taking to review and report on findings from radiology examinations, with one trust scans requested by A&E must be reported within one hour, in another trust it was two working days. For patients who were referred by their GPs, the timescale varied from 5 days through to 21 days.

The lack of consistency in turnaround time across trusts could have a huge impact on patient outcomes, should they be subject to a longer waiting time. Those who have experienced delays may seek medical negligence compensation should their health have suffered as a result.

In addition, it was found that a number of trusts had a large backlog of scans that were yet to be analysed, raising concerns over the ability to provide a sufficient service. This marries up with the findings from the 2016 RCR annual workforce census which showed that 97% of radiology departments in the UK were unable to meet reporting requirements. Delays in reporting can mean that serious conditions such as cancer, spread further before a definitive diagnosis is given and therefore before treatment can start. Serious delays in reporting and diagnosing may lead to hospital negligence claims being pursued.

In order to cope with the backlog of scans, 76% of trusts confirmed that they outsourced scans to varying degrees. Whilst this can ensure timeliness of reporting it can raise concerns over the quality of analysing should they not have been registered with the General Medical Council.

The findings from the review by the CQC have led to a call for deadlines for reporting scan results. It is thought that this would ensure all trusts are working to the same timings and provide a greater consistency of service as well a greater level of service to patients.




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