A radioactive pen disappeared from the gamma scanning room at Mercy University Hospital and the Environmental Protection Agency prosecuted the hospital today for a security breach.
The expert evidence from Dr Jack Madden called by the EPA was that the pen was close to the end of its life and emitting a low level of radiation – comparable to the level of radiation to which he said a passenger would be exposed on a one-hour flight.
Defence barrister Jane Hyland said the level of radiation from eating a banana would even be higher than the radiation from the pen that went missing and Dr Madden agreed.
However, Judge Con O’Leary said that it was simply fortunate that the pen was near the end of its life in terms of radioactivity and that it was only a matter of good fortune for everyone that the missing pen was not new and more radioactive.
Ms Hyland said everyone was aware of that and very appreciative of the fact. She said security and staffing arrangements were now in place to prevent it happening again.
After a brief adjournment at the end of the prosecution evidence presented by Brian Gageby BL on behalf of EPA and an unsuccessful defence application by Ms Hyland to have the case dismissed, the defence barrister indicated that a guilty plea was being entered by Mercy University Hospital.
Mr Gageby said other charges would be withdrawn in those circumstances.
The hospital admitted that, on October 16, 2018, at Grenville Place, Cork, it did fail to comply with condition F1 of the Radiological Protection Act 1991 (Ionising Radiation) order licence of the Environment Protection Agency to it in that it did fail to have suitable security arrangements in place to prevent, in so far as possible, the loss or theft of a licensed item, namely a radioactive source, RadQual BM10 Cobalt 57 pen point marker source, and the unauthorised access to or unauthorised removed of said radioactive source from its assigned location namely the Gamma Scanning Room.
Judge O’Leary said that it was the kind of thing that would not have happened in a more prosperous society in that it could have been prevented by more resources being provided for the hospital for supervisory staff and more resources for the EPA to support the hospital to comply with the requirements of the licence.
In the circumstances, he gave the hospital the benefit of a dismissal under the Probation Act.
He did not make a formal order on costs but said he expected the hospital to pay them and for the costs issue to be re-entered in Cork District Court if they were not paid.
The pen that went missing is the size of a writing pen and its tip is radioactive.
It is placed outside the part of the body that is being examined by bone imaging techniques after a patient has ingested radionuclides.
It was accepted by the prosecution that the missing pen, in this case, was reported by the hospital as soon as it went missing, in compliance with the self-reporting requirement under its licence.
It had been stored in a locked cabinet in the gamma scanning room but was later moved to a lead-lined bin from which it went missing.