Cancer reassessments clear after botch-up

Mammogram appointment reminders were mistakingly sent to Auckland women. Photo: Getty
All women whose BreastScreen Otago Southland mammograms were referred for an urgent reassessment following a botched initial reading have been cleared of having cancer.

Contracted radiology firm Pacific Radiology started contacting women a fortnight ago to be rechecked after an internal audit found that a doctor reading scan results was routinely not detecting cancers spotted by other doctors.

That doctor no longer works for the firm.

Pacific Radiology radiologist Dr Jacqueline Copland said that all affected women who were scanned as part of the Ministry of Health managed breast cancer screening programme had now had follow-up scans and no cancers had been found.

All scans read by the doctor from patients referred by the Southern District Health Board and by private physicians were still being followed up, but to date none of the scans in those categories which had been reviewed had found cancer either, Dr Copland said.

The clinical error, which was discovered through internal quality control checks, meant that more than 7500 scans the doctor read between January 2020 and May 2021 were reviewed and 60 women were called in for reassessment.

Routinely Pacific Radiology has two clinicians read breast imaging results to minimise the chance of a missed cancer.

Dr Copland said the incident had effectively been reviewed already through Pacific Radiology’s quality control processes.

"We have worked alongside the Ministry of Health from the start of this matter and our response and actions have been agreed with the Ministry at each step," she said.

"We will conduct a summary review of our response to see what can be learnt from this whole process and brief the relevant parties at the conclusion."

BreastScreen Otago Southland’s quality assurance processes had identified the issue, which was exactly what they were designed to do, she said.

"This situation was not foreseeable at the time the doctor was accredited to work within BreastScreen Otago Southland.

"The deterioration in this doctor’s performance was picked up because of the regular monitoring that occurs and the high performance standards that are being met by the other doctors working in the screening programme."

Pacific Radiology was confident any future performance issues would be identified by the company’s existing processes, but all its systems were routinely audited, Dr Copland said.


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