Andre Robichaud and Dr. Neil Branch speak at a news conference on Monday. ((CBC))

New Brunswick's two regional health authorities are launching an investigation into 30,000 tests performed by a radiologist who worked in hospitals in the province's northwest.

Andrée Robichaud, the president and chief executive officer of Regional Health Authority A, announced on Monday in Bathurst that the external review will date back to 2006.

The radiologist has not been named but it follows a review performed in July and August by external radiologists. That first review studied 332 of the radiologist's exams and found problems with 53 of them — and 28 were major discrepancies. The 53 patients known to be affected have been contacted.

The second external review is expected to take six months and will look at 30,000 different tests.

Robichaud said she is not sure if any patient outcomes have been affected.

"That’s why we're doing a three-year review," she said. "That means 18,000 exams for Region A and approximately 12,000 exams in Region B for a total of 30,000 exams. That will give us the answer to that question."

Concerns about the doctor's work first surfaced in 2005 and again in 2007. However, internal reviews at that time identified some problems, but the regional health authority did not see them to be a threat to patients.

Robichaud said the acceptable error rate in radiology is between three and five per cent, but the radiologist in question has an error rate of about 16 per cent.

The tests that will be reviewed include ultrasounds, chest X-rays, fluoroscopies, venograms, Doppler ultrasounds and mammographies.

The physician practised at hospitals in Grand Falls, Saint-Quentin, Plaster Rock, Perth-Andover and Bath.

The doctor, who has worked in New Brunswick since 1983, has been suspended without pay.

Dr. Neil Branch, vice-president of medical affairs for the health authority, said he was most concerned about the 28 major discrepancies revealed by the first review.

"These are the ones that are really worrying us and we're going to make a good review on it and make sure the patients have appropriate follow up," he said.

Patient followup

Earlier on Monday, Robichaud said the health authority would try to contact patients who may require a followup.

"We are very much aware of the fact that people are affected by this situation," Robichaud said in a statement.

"On behalf of Regional Health Authority A, I would like to express my regrets to the population in the Grand Falls and Saint-Quentin areas. [The authority's] primary objective is to provide the public with high-quality care, services, diagnostic tests and treatments."

Last year, the provincial government held a public inquiry into the work of Dr. Rajgopal Menon, a Miramichi-based pathologist.

Menon worked as a pathologist at the Miramichi Regional Health Authority from 1995 until February 2007, when he was suspended after complaints about incomplete diagnoses and delayed lab results.

The Health Department ordered the formal inquiry into the pathology work at the Miramichi hospital after an independent audit of 227 cases of breast and prostate cancer biopsies from 2004 to 2005 found 18 per cent had incomplete results and three per cent had been misdiagnosed.

Patients with concerns can call a government-operated toll-free number (1-877-795-3785) for information.