Patients facing cancer diagnosis delay

Royal Victoria Hospital

Royal Victoria Hospital

By Niall McCracken

PATIENTS waiting for a potential diagnosis of cancer may have to be called back to hospital following the failure of equipment used to examine biopsies at the Royal Victoria Hospital, The Detail can reveal.

The Belfast Health Trust has confirmed that “a fault occurred” with a machine used to provide laboratory results for medical staff diagnosing patients.

The trust would not comment on individual cases but The Detail understands tissue samples affected range from serious instances of potentially cancerous biopsies to skin samples taken because of more routine queries.

The trust said it had contacted 23 patients who were affected by the fault and it apologised over the incident. A spokesperson said: “The trust is sorry for any concern or difficulty caused to those patients affected.”

In a statement, the trust added: “Hospital doctors will be in contact with individual patients to agree what further action, if any, is required.”

The trust confirmed that the machine fault is being investigated as part of its Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) procedures. SAIs are incidents deemed serious enough to require regional action to improve patient safety.

The worst affected cases will be patients who may have to undergo repeat tests for the prescence of cancer.

This could involve individuals having a further biopsy taken to confirm their diagnosis.

It is believed that not all of the cases affected were being examined for cancer.

Pathology is the branch of medicine concerned with identifying the cause, origin and nature of a disease or illness.

Human tissue for diagnosis can only be analysed by pathologists once it has been prepared through a procedure known as “processing”.

The Belfast Trust confirmed that the machine in question is used to “impregnates tissue with wax to allow analysis using a microscope”.

The trust would not comment on the specifics of the fault but confirmed that the equipment was almost 10-years-old.

The Belfast Trust stressed that the machine was no longer in use following the incident last week.

It said the machine was one of a number used to provide test results and therefore other clinical services would be unaffected.

The spokesperson said: “A total of 23 samples have been affected by the fault and we are today writing to each of the 23 patients involved, to their hospital doctors and to their GPs. No other sample results have been affected by this fault.”