Shortages and IT issues hit North Kent Pathology Service

Blood test Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A laboratory's accreditation was suspended for biochemistry tests

IT failures and a lack of supplies are among a list of issues uncovered at a hospital laboratory service that has recalled thousands of patients for fresh blood tests.

More than 3,200 patients had to return after a series of problems followed the amalgamation of pathology services in north Kent in February 2018.

The Royal College of Pathologists is to review the service.

North Kent Pathology Service (NKPS) has apologised to patients and doctors.

The new system began in April, when "non-emergency" blood tests from the Medway and Swale areas started to be tested at Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford. It was intended to "improve turnaround times".

The UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) suspended the laboratory's accreditation for biochemistry from October. It has now been reinstated after a follow-up assessment.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Blood from Swale and Medway is now being tested at Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford

According to documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Health Service Journal:

  • In January, 99 blood and urine samples requiring a specialist test which potentially reveals serious diseases were not processed and the samples were not saved
  • Immunology tests were not sent directly to GP practices' IT systems
  • More than 300 patients had to be retested for Vitamin B12 deficiency after the laboratory ran out of supplies in October and failed to safely store the samples so they could be tested later
  • Seven test results which could indicate acute kidney injury were not reported to GPs speedily because automated telephone systems were not set up correctly

There have been 10 "serious incidents" declared, with all but one now closed.


Mark Norman, health correspondent, BBC News South East

For patients and their families, waiting for test results is stressful. To be told by the NHS that it has messed up and all the tests will have to be redone only increases that stress.

The North Kent Pathology Service has apologised for that but there are bigger questions.

The NHS is currently considering how to merge all pathology services across Kent and Medway, which begs the question: how confident can the public be that they will get it right?

Doctors use pathology tests to make decisions on a person's care and treatment. They need those tests to be done quickly otherwise patient care could be compromised and in the worst cases patients could be harmed by any delay.

NKPS said patient safety remained its priority, adding: "We want to apologise to patients, GP colleagues and other healthcare professionals who have been affected.

"NKPS has identified and declared incidents where there have been issues and corrective actions have been put in place, including strengthening oversight of the service.

"NKPS is ensuring that any incidents are also reported to NHS regulators. The patient harm review process covers every patient affected by the NKPS incidents."

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