Published: 03/10/2002 Volume II2, No.5825 Page 9

An investigation into the failure by Chase Farm Hospital to process 2,700 requests for ultrasound scans has concluded that GPs and patients did not complain about delays because they had such low expectations of the trust.

In January this year, a Commission for Health Improvement clinical governance review of zero-star Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals trust uncovered the backlog of scan requests - some dating back to March 2000.

The findings led CHI to launch a separate investigation which is due to report in November.

Last week, a panel of inquiry convened by North Central London strategic health authority submitted its findings to the SHA's board. The report told of 'hostilities' within the ultrasound team, poor team working, staff recruitment problems and a culture of 'two-tribes' across the trust's two sites. It noted 'grave concerns at the apparent lack of outcry from the local GP population or patients before the incident was discovered'.

'The panel believed this may have related to systemic problems at Chase Farm Hospital dating back to 1997-98 and an acceptance of the situation by primary care.'

The panel has made a series of recommendations to prevent a repeat occurrence, including more robust systems for primary care trusts to track the progress of referrals.While the majority of patients have now been scanned, the panel recommends a 'fail-safe' exercise on 543 patients who have either been referred back to the referring clinician or who did not attend once they had an appointment.

The report also concluded: 'Lack of leadership had made it impossible to manage the department.Historical problems had led to the crisis which included a combination of poor management and pressure of work, not helped by a lack of commitment of consultant staff.'

But it added that the department was 'now on track for resolving these issues'. From last month, consultants have been working across both sites which should 'improve audit and develop a new culture', the report said.