• Kettering General Hospital dealing with major reporting backlogs affecting thousands of scans, including urgent and cancer MRI and CT scans
  • At least one serious incidence and 68 other incidences of potential harm identified, with patients waiting up to 3 months for routine MRI scan results
  • Fault attributed to flagship digital radiology vanguard programme, implemented in 7 East Midlands trusts, with CQC intervening to assess patient safety risk

Cancer patients may have been harmed by a large backlog of diagnostic scans at a Midlands hospital which has been ongoing since at least September, it has emerged.

Kettering General Hospital board papers reveal that at least one serious incident and 68 other incidences of “potential harm” have been caused by ”significant delays” in the reviewing and reporting of thousands of diagnostic patient scans.

The hospital declined to provide further details on the nature of the harm caused. However December board papers confirmed that incidences of potential harm were all in relation to MRI and CT scans, with November board papers revealing that urgent and cancer MRI and CT scans were caught up in the delays.

Last month seven urgent MRIs were waiting over a week to be reviewed, while 261 routine CT scans had a reporting wait of seven weeks, and 1,637 routine MRI scans faced waits of up to three months to report. A spokesman for the trust confirmed to HSJ that the backlog would not be cleared until the end of March.

A spokesman for Kettering Hospital said that “a number of technical issues associated with the implementation” of a new digital radiology system had caused some of the reporting delays, although he admitted that there had a been a reporting backlog before the system went live in June.

Kettering is one of seven NHS trusts involved in the East Midlands Radiology Consortium which is implementing a new digital radiology system which allows doctors to view and share a patient’s CT scans, MRI’s and x-rays among other images.

The potential risk to patient safety caused by the delays at Kettering prompted the Care Quality Commission to write to the six other trusts involved in EMRAD. In the letter marked “urgent”, it asked them if they had experienced similar delays and how each trust was ”assuring itself that patients’ safety and the quality of care and treatment is not being compromised”. EMRAD serves approximately 6.5m people across the seven trusts.

EMRAD programme director Penny Storr told HSJ that the new system had “resulted in teething problems and delays” but declined to say how widespread the problems were.

HSJ has learnt that at least one of the other six trusts have also seen a drop in reporting. A spokeswoman for Northampton General Hospital said: “It is true that the impact [from the introduction of the system] was more severe than expected and at its worst, our report turnaround time dropped from 95 per cent reported in seven days to 58 per cent.” She added that Northampton is now reviewing 90 per cent of scans in seven days.

A spokesman for Kettering Hospital added: “The trust carried out a harm review in respect of patients affected by the backlog and the individual issues raised are being appropriately addressed.”

The EMRAD was one of the 13 acute care collaboration vanguards chosen by NHS England in September 2015. The programme covers Chesterfield Royal Hospital Foundation trust, Sherwood Forest Hospitals Foundation trust, Nottingham University Hospitals trust, United Lincolnshire Hospitals trust, University Hospitals of Leicester along with Kettering and Nottingham.