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Patients Dying Due To Lack of Funds For X-ray Technique

Posted Feb 10 2009 11:31am

Today, Britain’s most senior radiologist has advised that patients are at risk of dying unnecessarily due to a lack of modern X-ray facilities at hospital.

Professor Andy Adam, president of th Royal College of Radiologists commented that nine out of 10 hospitals cannot provide sufficient trained staff and equipment to provide interventional radiology, which can save lives, despite the fact it is less expensive and holds less risks than surgery.

The technique can carry out tasks such as stop internal bleeding, kill tumours and open up blocked arteries. X-rays, ultrasound or a CT scan can guide instruments to the problem area through a tiny incision known as “pinhole” surgery.

Professor Adam reported that this technique lets radiologists offer treatment for injuries and diseases as well as diagnose them, hence avoiding risky surgical procedures.

However, interventional radiology is not used enough, despite it being cheaper and saving more lives, especially among new mother with postnatal bleeding, due to financial issues and a lack of jobs for qualified staff.

“Thousands of lives a year would be put at much less risk and millions of pounds could be saved if [these techniques] were used more widely,” he said.

“Somewhere in the country someone is either going to have a serious injury or die because [the facilities] are not available and they will either get conventional surgery or nothing. It is an accident waiting to happen.”

Professor Adam added, “ If you have a patient with severe internal bleeding they will be in shock. If the surgeon opens their tummy up, the procedure adds to the shock. The risk is increased by the surgery itself.

“Using interventional radiology, you can insert an instrument through an artery in the groin, find the bleeding point using a [radio-opaque] dye and block the artery much more easily.”

An investigation was carried two years ago by the Healthcare Commission into a tragedy at Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow, north London, where 10 mothers died after childbirth. The investigation concluded that interventional radiology should be available in all hospitals with delivery units to “save the lives of mothers with catastrophic postnatal bleeding”.

We are nowhere near achieving that,” Professor Adam said. “ We are going to have more deaths from post-partum haemorrhage [bleeding following childbirth] as a result.

Professor Adam presented evidence to the Commons Health Select Committee’s inquiry on patient safety, insisting a review of funding for interventional radiology was required urgently. “ There is no other discipline in the health service where the gap between the potential to increase patient safety and the reality is greater,” he told MPs.

In order to demonstrate the savings that could be made, Professor Adams referrred to treatment for fibroids - where benign growths develop in the womb. A hysterectomy would costs £3,200, whereas using interventional radiology would only cost half as much.

Professor Adam added that it was difficult to get money set aside for the technique as funds needed to come out of the radiology budget, a diagnostic speciality, rather than being considered for funds next to surgery and gynaecology, which are treatment specialities.

The lack of availability [of interventional radiology] is putting patients’ lives at risk,” he said. “ Some patients have died because the service isn’t there and patients will go on dying.”

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