HSE computer system failed to recognise ‘<’ symbols

No patients were harmed as a result of a technical problem in the HSE for recording the results of thousands of Xrays and scans, according to a report.

A review of the problem which was discovered last July has established there were no adverse outcomes due to the failure of the HSE’s computer system to recognise the ‘less than’ symbol, ‘<’.

Medical professionals were concerned that the error could have resulted in doctors and surgeons making an incorrect decision for the treatment of a patient.

The error mean that, for example, a scan which showed the narrowing of an artery was less than 50%, incorrectly stated that the narrowing was exactly 50%.

The HSE had classified the technical issue, which was discovered by a radiologist in a provincial hospital, as a serious incident because of its potential to cause harm to patients. The report said it had identified 24,275 cases in 33 hospitals where the ‘<’ symbol had been omitted.

The HSE said a review of all the files had established there had been no instances of patient harm. In one case, a patient did not receive a 12-month follow-up scan because of the error. The HSE said the patient was recalled and scanned and no adverse findings were found.

The HSE said it believed it was the first instance worldwide of a technical issue of that nature which had affected a national imaging management system.

The Irish Medical Organisation said the flaw in the HSE’s computer system was a reminder that technology can never be fully relied on.