A full review of the HSE’s computer system needs to take place after errors were detected in 25,000 medical scans.
That is according to Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, and the Social Democrats, who have demanded an immediate investigation into the error, which may have led to vulnerable people being given unnecessary treatments due to incorrect test results.
At least 25,000 X-rays, MRIs, CTs, and ultrasounds taken since 2011 are affected by the computer programming error, which was only identified last week.
The flaw arose with images of patients’ tests held at the HSE’s National Integrated Medical Imaging System (NIMIS). The exact issue relates to the use of the “less than (<)” symbol and it being omitted or not visible when being read in a report by a medical professional.
The consequence of this means patients could have been undertreated, overtreated, or not treated at all.
The HSE said last night that all hospitals and radiology departments operating NIMIS have been notified of this issue.
“As a precautionary measure, the HSE is reviewing the patient safety risks associated with this issue and as stated, an incident management team has been convened to manage this process,” said a spokesperson for the HSE.
The Irish Patients’ Association (IPA) called for a helpline to be set up by the HSE to offer information and reassurance to the thousands of people potentially affected by this error.
“Far more information is needed to alleviate fears and anxieties that patients may have,” said a spokesman for the IPA.
“From the public’s perspective, more information needs to be provided by the HSE.”
Dr Chris Luke, consultant in emergency medicine at Cork University Hospital, said it is unlikely that patients would be treated on the basis of one erroneous test report.
He said it would be potentially serious if patients were overtreated due to false positive results.
Dr Luke said it would be normal practice that such things would be picked up by multidisciplinary teams, where doctors confer on a range of tests and checks relating to patients.
He said doctors have an obligation to verify tests, repeat checks, and to look at all of the patient’s previous results.
Dr Ann Hogan, president of the Irish Medical Organisation, said she hoped very few people, “if no one at all”, would have to worry.
Prof Barry O’Sullivan, director of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in UCC’s Department of Computer Science, questioned patient safety.
“If the HSE is using a system that is so wrong then how does it know that any of its systems are reliable?” he told the Irish Examiner.
“I’ve never heard of an error like this. The mistake is a really fundamental one.”
Speaking on RTÉ, Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said an urgent, full-scale review is needed due to the seriousness of the issues involved.
“We need to have a full review on the HSE’s capacity in the technological areas to firstly draft contracts for purchase of software, but also to assess software and the implications of because we are moving into the digital era,” he said.
The Social Democrats’ Galway West general-election candidate Niall Ó Tuathail — who is a former health reform adviser to Britain’s National Health Service — also raised concerns.
“This flaw was an avoidable mistake. In the end, tech systems can’t replace clinical judgement and should only be used as a support,” he said.
Latest X-ray scandal part of long list
- Joyce Fegan
The latest HSE X-ray scandal is just one in a long list of similar cases.
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