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Watchdog reports rise in medical radiation incidents

Notifications up by 16%, new figures show

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 08 November 2016

An increase in the number of medical-related radiation incidents have been reported in England, according to the health watchdog. 

In its annual report on activity relating to the enforcement of The Ionising Radiation (Medical Exposure) Regulations, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) notes an increase of 16% (1,277 notification) during 2015, on the previous year’s total (1,103). 

The CQC says the rise is partly due to an increase in activity taking place, and more clinicians recognising the importance of reporting incidents of over-exposure. 

Of all the notifications received, 1,027 (81% of the total) were from diagnostic radiology departments, 52 were from nuclear medicine and 198 notifications were from radiotherapy departments.

Commenting, Professor Sir Mike Richards, Chief Inspector of Hospitals at the Care Quality Commission, said: "This is an important report setting out our work to help protect patients from risks when, as part of their diagnosis or treatment, they are exposed to radiation from x-rays or radiopharmaceuticals that are used widely in medicine.

"There has been a steady increase in the number of notifications we have received. Transparency is a key driver in encouraging improvement and this report highlights some improvement in clinician's understanding and awareness of what needs to be notified to us. This improvement needs to continue so that organisations can learn from errors, and take action to mitigate the risks of repeat errors.”

The CQC notes that while the number of notifications may seem relatively high, it needs to be put into the context of the estimated 40 million procedures each year that expose patients to radiation. While notifications relate to incidents where patients receive radiation exposures that are “much greater than intended”, this does not mean that incidents reported have resulted in harm.

The safety of the patient and use of ionising radiation for medical exposures has been subject to specific legislation since 1988. The CQC (and previously the Healthcare Commission) has been the enforcement authority for the IR(ME)R regulations in England since 2006.

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