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National standards on radiology reporting times needed, says CQC

A CQC review into radiology reporting times has called for national standards on scan turnaround times.

The regulator found significant variation in the timescales for reporting on radiology examinations and a wide range of arrangements in place to monitor and manage backlogs of unreported images at NHS trusts.

The CQC raised concerns about the lack of agreed best practice and is calling for the development of national standards for reporting turnaround times, and improved guidance to support trusts in monitoring their own performance to reduce the risk of delays.

Analysis of the data submitted by a sample group of 30 trusts revealed that trusts’ targets for reporting scans referred from emergency departments vary widely – from an hour at one trust, to two working days at another.

For outpatient referrals, the expected timescales ranged from five days to 21 days – showing the lack of agreement among trusts on how quickly an examination should be reported on.

Trusts who were effectively monitoring their own performance had triggers in place to alert them to the fact that a backlog in reporting was starting to develop.

Professor Ted Baker, CQC’s Chief Inspector of Hospitals, said: “We are calling for agreed national standards to ensure consistent, timely reporting of radiological examinations. This will allow trusts to monitor and benchmark their own performance – and ensure that, for example patients are not put at risk by delays in their x-ray results being reported to the clinician responsible for their care.

“With demand for radiology services increasing, trusts face real challenges in managing reporting workload. Many rely on outsourcing to external providers or delegating reporting to non-radiology clinical staff within the hospital. Where this is happening, those tasked with interpreting and reporting images must be appropriately trained and competent to do so.”

The Royal College of Radiology stressed that unless radiologist staffing is improved, reporting backlogs are likely to continue.

Dr Nicola Strickland, President of The Royal College of Radiologists, said: “The premise of national standards for the turnaround of imaging reports is laudable – patients deserve a uniformly safe, high quality standardised service across the country, and hospitals need to be able to monitor and benchmark performance.

“Whether high quality national standards can be maintained in practice is another question. Creating standards that balance the realities of struggling imaging teams with the best turnaround for patients will not be easy.”

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