Patient group’s fury at radiographer’s let-off over blunder


By Martin Graham

A RADIOGRAPHER involved in a blunder which led to a cancer patient being given the wrong radiation treatment has been allowed to continue practising.

Alison Russell was a senior radiographer at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre when a woman was given four doses of radiotherapy instead of three – because she had the same surname as a second person due in that day.

Staff at the clinic – criticised over the death of teenage overdose victim Lisa Norris – never checked the identity and date of birth of the woman properly before administering the treatment.

Despite suffering from lung cancer she was treated for gullet cancer and the mistake was only realised when the second woman showed-up later that day to be told her treatment had already been given.

Russell – who has 36 years experience in radiotherapy –  was demoted following the June 23, 2008 mix-up and later resigned saying she found it difficult to continue working at a lower level.

It was only following her departure that bosses reported her to Health Professional Council – the watchdog for radiographers in the UK.

But at a hearing of the HPC’s Conduct and Competence Committee she was cleared of misconduct and incompetence despite admitting that mistakes had been made.

A colleague who was working with Russell at the time – Gail Vasey – was given a final written warning by bosses at the Beatson but never reported to the HPC.

The committee determined that misconduct had taken place however said that it was not clear that Russell had been at fault and added that there was no evidence of incompetence on her part.

They said that the charges were not proven to be directly and solely attributable to Russell and that the case did not impair her ability to practice radiotherapy.

Panel chair Ian Griffiths said: “Mrs Russell’s conduct on 23 June 2008 fell short of the standards expected of a registered radiographer.”

But, he added: “There is no evidence that the knowledge and skills were deficient in any respect, the evidence does not demonstrate lack of competence on Mrs Russell’s part.

“This was an isolated incident and there is very little likelihood of repetition.”

Russell declined to comment following the hearing in Edinburgh.

But the HPC’s decision sparked anger from a patient’s group who insisted both Russell and Vasey should have faced professional sanctions.

Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scottish Patients Association said that the HPC’s decision was a “cop-out” and said that both radiographers should have been taken through the disciplinary procedure.

She said: “It is a huge, huge mistake and this decision is a cop-out.

“Both the radiographers should have been responsible, they should both have known that this was not the appropriate treatment.

“The two of them should have been at the disciplinary hearing. To say it is not clear who was responsible is an excuse, we are not looking for excuses, we are looking for people to tighten up.”

Brain tumour patient Lisa Norris was just 16 years old when she suffered agonising burns and passed away in October 2006.

But the medic responsible for the blunder, Stuart McNee, kept his job to the dismay of Lisa’s family while the centre said it implemented recommendations to safeguard patients in the future.

And last month it was revealed that the clinic was failing to report dozens of radiation blunders every year.

Five serious radiation events at the Beatson were recorded in the last three years and reported to the Scottish Government while staff faced disciplinary measures.

But bosses at the state of the art facility failed to pass on a further 69 “clinically significant” mix-ups during the same period.