Headlines: December 19th, 2001

Some hospitals that cannot meet the target of treating all patients within 18 months are manipulating records to enhance their performance. The National Audit Office, which carried out a selective audit of a limited number of hospitals, found that false information about waiting time had been produced by nine NHS trusts. This would indicate that the malpractices revealed by the auditors are fairly widespread. It is estimated that some 6000 patients were affected and in some cases their condition may have deteriorated during the longer wait.The auditors found evidence of deliberate manipulation over as much as four years at some hospitals. Record manipulation was the most widespread practice and this was achieved by using a two list system. Different criteria were used for excluding patients from the ‘official list’ which provided the database for the performance information In some cases patients were only added to the official list one month before they were treated. In another case only urgent patients were included. Another hospital simply excluded patients from the list when they passed the 18 month wait time. Because offering a patient an appointment, rather than actually carrying out the treatment, legitimately met the waiting time rule, one hospital offered appointments at short notice and when they knew patients would be on holiday. . Amending patient records, for example about date of treatment, was another device use to conceal actual performance.

The report reveals that managers involved in the malpractices were suspended on either full pay or received a compensation package only to take up new jobs elsewhere in the NHS.

Spot checks will be introduced in the new year in a move to stamp out the practices revealed by the report.