The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has written to the Government urging it to prioritise improvements to NHS imaging services as part of the health sector's recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The letter highlights findings from the Ombudsman's report, Unlocking Solutions in Imaging, that shows recurrent failings in the way X-rays and scans are reported on and followed up across NHS services.
PHSO said its casework shows the “devastating” impact these failings have had on patients and their families. In several cases, signs of cancer in X-rays and scans were not reported, which led to delayed diagnoses and poorer outcomes for the patients, it said.
Another common failing has been inefficient handovers between departments and services. Investigations also found that trusts did not learn from previous errors related to imaging, which meant they repeated the mistakes.
In his report, Ombudsman Rob Behrens stresses that failings related to imaging are found across the NHS, in both primary and secondary care services, and not solely in imaging departments. He calls on the Government to commit to a system-wide programme of improvements for more effective and timely management of X-rays and scans.
He said: “X-ray and scan results are key to diagnosis and treatment for many people. Yet the failings outlined in this report show that without a concerted effort to improve imaging, patient safety continues to be at risk.
“Now, as the NHS recovers from the devastating impact of the pandemic, we have a vital opportunity to learn from the failings and embed system-wide changes to improve imaging in the health service.
“The evidence led recommendations I have set out should be implemented swiftly, with collaboration across government and the health sector to strengthen the NHS’s recovery.”
Peter Walsh from the patient safety charity Action against Medical Accidents, said: “This is a major patient safety issue, and we need to see the various recommendations implemented as a matter of urgency.”
The report is based on analysis of 25 complaints about to failings related to imaging that occurred between 2013 and 2020.
Image from PHSO