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Increase in the number of radiation incidents reported to CQC

7 November 2016
  • Public

Our annual report on activity relating to our enforcement of The Ionising Radiation (Medical Exposure) Regulations 2000 in England has been published.

The regulations are intended to:

  • Protect patients from unintended, excessive or incorrect medical exposures during common procedures such as x-rays (including dental) and CT scans, radiotherapy, and in nuclear medicine.
  • Ensure that the benefits outweigh the risk in every case.
  • Ensure that patients receive no more than the required exposure for the desired benefit, within technological limits.

The 2015 report

The report gives a breakdown of the number and type of notifications we receive from healthcare providers when patients receive exposures of radiation that are 'much greater than intended'. It presents the key findings from these notifications and our inspections of departments, either to follow up a notification or as part of CQC's comprehensive programme of inspections. It also reports on our work to help develop guidance for medical professionals about making notifications in radiology, nuclear medicine and radiotherapy departments.

During 2015 we received a total of 1,277 notifications, an increase of 16% on the previous year's total (1,103). The increase in notifications is partly the result of an increase in activity taking place and more clinicians recognising the importance of reporting incidents of over-exposure.

Of all the notifications we received, 1,027 (81% of the total) were from diagnostic radiology departments, 52 were from nuclear medicine and 198 notifications were from radiotherapy departments.

While the number of notifications may seem relatively high, it needs to be put into the context of the estimated 40 million procedures each year that expose patients to radiation. While notifications relate to incidents where patients receive radiation exposures that are 'much greater than intended', this does not mean that incidents reported have resulted in harm.

We also understand that there is a genuine variation in how providers interpret the guidance around notifying incidents to CQC.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, Chief Inspector of Hospitals at the Care Quality Commission, said:

"This is an important report setting out our work to help protect patients from risks when, as part of their diagnosis or treatment, they are exposed to radiation from x-rays or radiopharmaceuticals that are used widely in medicine.

"There has been a steady increase in the number of notifications we have received. Transparency is a key driver in encouraging improvement and this report highlights some improvement in clinicians' understanding and awareness of what needs to be notified to us. This improvement needs to continue so that organisations can learn from errors, and take action to mitigate the risks of repeat errors."

The report also shares the key themes and learning drawn from our work in enforcing the regulations across all medical radiation areas, which we hope will be of use to clinical departments in providing safer services to patients.

Further information

The safety of the patient and use of ionising radiation for medical exposures has been subject to specific legislation since 1988. CQC (and previously the Healthcare Commission) has been the enforcement authority for the IR(ME)R regulations in England since 2006.

Incidents can be reported on this website. We also publish further information about ionising radiation and how we enforce the regulations.

Last updated:
29 May 2017