Inquiry into Gold Coast X-ray reporting

Lawrence Springborg
Lawrence Springborg

Brisbane 14 July 2014. News of a long-running failure in the routine reporting of Gold Coast patients’ x-rays will be the centre of an independent investigation, ordered by Health Minister, Lawrence Springborg.

A backlog of about 48,000 unreported x-rays – dating back before 2009 - was uncovered by the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service Board and its Safety, Quality and Engagement Sub Committee at a meeting late last week.

The issue was made public at a media conference conducted by the sub-committee chair, Colette McCool and Chief Executive Ron Calvert, earlier today.

“Without intervention by the board, this systemic failure would have continued,” Mr Springborg said.

“In this case, treating clinicians were able to view x-rays to assist in the treatment of their patients. What has failed is the subsequent formal reporting by specialist radiologists on every x-ray. These reports provide confirmation of the diagnosis by the treating physician and whether additional conditions are to be noted.

"This ensures that any condition that appears in a medical image – even those unrelated to current treatment – will be notified to the patient via the health system.”

The Minister said initial inquiries revealed endemic trouble with the reporting network prior to September 2009, when difficulties extended state-wide.

“On that occasion, Queenslanders were not told of the problem by the Labor Government,” the Minister said. “Today, it is unknown whether the backlog that existed at that time was ever properly processed.

“This time, because of the patient safety requirements that apply to hospital boards, a failure in reporting in just one HHS has resulted in full disclosure.”

Mr Springborg said he was committed to open and transparent reporting of issues and problems in the health system.

“Unlike Labor, the LNP Government is not about health cover-ups and sweeping problems under the carpet.”

Mr Springborg said the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service Board had proposed a three-part response to the problem, which would be implemented in full.

The newly-amended arrangements of the GCHHS for the future reporting of medical imagery including plain film x-rays should be subject to external monitoring, at least in the short to medium term.

Robust protocols and procedures to prioritise and address the backlog are required and external scrutiny of that process is desirable.

Finally, an investigation to report to the public on this issue, its genesis and consequences and to recommend further remedial and other appropriate action should be considered.

“I have asked the Director-General to prepare terms of reference and to identify a qualified person to head an inquiry into these matters,” the Minister said.

“X-ray reporting is an important aid to treatment, but it also serves as a sentinel to protect Queenslanders from illnesses they may not even know about.”

Mr Springborg said he had received advice that the current problems at the GCHHS were isolated.

“But the inquiry will canvas current procedures state-wide and ensure effective fail-safes apply,” he said.

 “Delays and backlogs in this system cannot be permitted. We need clear lines to differentiate the categories of medical imagery that are reported and the protocols and timelines that apply.

“These tasks will be pursued by the inquiry and I will report on the outcomes in State Parliament.”