Unlocked rooms created 'radiation exposure risk' at hospital, inspectors report

Rooms with hazardous clinical equipment were left unlocked, inspectors found

Rooms with hazardous clinical equipment were left unlocked, inspectors found - Credit: Mike Brooke

A possible risk of radiation exposure has been revealed in a surprise health inspection at the Royal London Hospital.   

Rooms with hazardous clinical equipment were left unlocked, inspectors from the Care Quality Commission found, so “anyone could walk in and risk exposure...which would be dangerous".

After the report, Barts Health NHS Trust which runs the hospitals - says it has already “taken urgent steps” to address inspectors’ concerns and make sure improvements are made. 

Concerns at X-ray radiation exposure  

Concerns at X-ray radiation exposure - Credit: Mike Brooke

Unannounced inspections were carried out at both the Royal London and Whipps Cross hospitals in May — at the height of the Covid-19 crisis.  

“We had serious concerns when we inspected the diagnostic imaging services,” the head of the CQC's hospital inspection Nicola Wise said. 

“We found rooms containing hazardous clinical equipment at the Royal London that were not securely locked.

"This meant anyone could enter the room and risk exposure to radiation or powerful magnets which would be extremely dangerous.  

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“We also found a mobile X-ray machine which had been left unsupervised in a publicly-accessible corridor. It was connected to mains power with the key left in place — so it could be operated by a patient, visitor or an unauthorised staff member, putting them at risk of exposure to ionising radiation.”  

Barts NHS Trust's four acute hospitals prepare for "the prospect of a third wave".  

Barts NHS Trust's four acute hospitals prepare for "the prospect of a third wave". - Credit: Mike Brooke

A spokesperson from Barts Health NHS Trust told the Advertiser: “We are disappointed with issues brought out by these inspections. Substantial improvements are now required.   

"We took urgent steps to address security and safety raised in spot-checks at the imaging departments at both hospitals and are now working with staff to make sustainable improvements for patients.” 

Inspectors also found no way to test reliability of ageing equipment at the Royal London. Staff told the CQC they felt Barts leadership team “was not visible”, although partly due to the Covid pandemic when they were inaccessible. 

Additionally, some office areas where patient records are kept were found unlocked and accessible to unauthorised personnel.  

Inspectors also heard allegations of "bullying, harassment, racism and sexism" that had been escalated to the HR department but had not been resolved. Staff were afraid they may be "treated unfavourably” if they complained, the inspectors reported.

But inspectors found the X-ray department did manage infection risk. Staff followed infection control principles, correctly using personal protective equipment (PPE) and effective hand hygiene. 

The hospital trust held a “risk summit with the commission and the Society of Radiographers" with priority to safety.