CQC reports on safe use of radiation in healthcare settings

Published: 13 November 2023 Page last updated: 13 November 2023

CQC's annual report on our work to enforce the Ionising Radiation (Medical Exposure) Regulations in England has been published.

The regulations protect people from the dangers of being accidentally or unintentionally exposed to ionising radiation in a healthcare setting. Errors can happen when healthcare providers use ionising radiation to diagnose or treat people. Healthcare providers must notify CQC about these.

The report gives a breakdown of the number and type errors that CQC was notified about between 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023. The report also presents the key findings from our inspection and enforcement activity in that time.

By sharing this information, we aim to help providers and healthcare professionals identify and take action where safety improvements may be needed in their own service.

In 2022/23, we received 727 notifications of errors:

  • 380 (52%) were from diagnostic imaging departments
  • 77 (11%) were from nuclear medicine departments
  • 270 (37%) were from radiotherapy departments

During this period, there were over 43 million diagnostic imaging examinations carried out on NHS patients in England. Of these, around 29 million used ionising radiation. There were also 142,000 episodes of radiotherapy treatment in England.

This shows that notifications of errors represent a small proportion of the total examinations and treatment undertaken. Although notifications relate to incidents where there is risk of harm, most do not result in harm to patients.

The most common cause of error was when images were requested for the wrong patient. We also found that inadequate checks about the patient’s identity or mistakes by the operator had resulted in errors.

For some inspections, we made recommendations to providers to make improvements or took enforcement action in response to non-compliance with the regulations. Areas for improvement included:

  • Ensuring a full set of procedures and guidance that reflects effective clinical practice to support staff when delivering care.
  • More frequent testing of equipment.
  • Maintaining up to date and accurate records for practitioners working in the service.

The report identifies recurring themes and concerns found in our work and shares practical actions for IR(ME)R employers. These are suggested actions help to improve practice and ensure patient safety.

Further information

See further information about ionising radiation and how we enforce the regulations.