Cancer testing fears at Bristol hospitals
Tests on 3,500 Bristol hospital patients are being sent for independent checks after claims that some, including cancer sufferers, were wrongly diagnosed.
The trust which runs the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) has called for the audit of tissue samples tested in one of its labs.
The review comes after concerns were raised that 15 people had been given wrong diagnoses.
In one case it is alleged that a woman, who has now died, was told a breast biopsy was benign – but was later found to have cancer that had spread.
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There were also claims that other patients had undergone treatment for cancer when they did not actually have the disease.
The cases that sparked the review were tested by pathologists at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the BRI and St Michael's, between 2000 and 2008.
They involved patients who had been referred from neighbouring North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT), which then reviewed the findings.
The Evening Post has previously reported that Dr Nassif Ibrahim, a consultant pathologist at NBT-run Frenchay Hospital, told a councillors' health scrutiny meeting in October 2007 that he feared some aspects of pathology services at St Michael's were not up to standard.
And satirical magazine Private Eye has recently published claims that former NBT medical director Dr Martin Morse was sent a letter detailing 11 alleged serious diagnostic errors in the same year.
Those claims mostly involved errors in test on patients with rare lung diseases, including four cases of alleged misdiagnosis since 2007.
UHBristol medical director Dr Jonathan Sheffield yesterday announced an independent, external review into pathology services at the trust after consulting the Royal College of Pathologists.
He said: "I am confident about the quality of our pathology services and there is no evidence to confirm a significant error rate.
"However, I take any allegations over clinical performance extremely seriously and therefore this review is necessary to reassure patients and the public that they can have confidence in our pathology services.
"If we do pick up cases with a potential for serious harm for a patient we will have to pull notes and see that no harm has come to that patient. Often something will have happened and their case would have been looked at again.
"The 15 cases will be absolutely cleared up and we will be exactly clear what harm happened, if any, and will tell the individuals concerned, if we have not already."
Dr Sheffield said that the trust discussed the concerns of some NBT pathologists when they were first raised in 2007 and held a series of team meetings.
He agreed to put in place more checks but when NBT came to him again with concerns, Dr Sheffield asked the Royal College of Pathologists about a review. But he said the college initially advised against a review unless there was more evidence.
Dr Sheffield, whose background is in pathology, said that the practice is not an exact science and there is an error rate of about one to two per cent in interpretation of test results.
He said that in some cases three different experts could draw different results from a sample and that usual practice is for diagnosis to be discussed with different members of a medical team rather then a pathologist alone, so that a patient's history could also be considered.
He said the trust's pathologists deal with about 18,000 cases a year and, in comparison, 15 cases in more than seven years was relatively minute.
The Royal College of Pathologists is not a regulatory body although it offers advice to maintain standards.
After consulting the organisation, Dr Sheffield said he had asked two independent specialists to look at 3,500 randomly selected samples from 2007 to see if there is a significant error rate and identify any areas of concern.
They will also be checking the 15 cases highlighted by NBT again but Dr Sheffield said that patient confidentiality prevented him from commenting specifically.
The audit is expected to take at least 10 weeks and when it has been completed, the results will be published and the trust will take further advice from the Royal College of Pathologists to establish if further action is needed.
A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Pathologists said: "Experience has demonstrated that allegations of poor performance can arise for many reasons, sometimes including personal conflicts between individuals.
"Histopathology reports represent professional opinions, not measurements, and we have occasionally seen cases where genuine and understandable differences of opinion on difficult cases have been misrepresented as 'errors'."
Are you concerned about a test at either of the hospitals? If so, call us on 0117 934 3333.