Headlines: March 5th, 2003

National Health Service Trusts have been given a deadline to carry out thorough reviews of the systems they use to record hospital waiting times following a report from the Audit Commission which showed some trusts were manipulating waiting lists. But NHS managers say the time has come to recognise that spending money on improving management is an investment in patient care.In the wake of the Commission’s findings, the NHS Chief Executive, Sir Nigel Crisp, said deliberate misreporting of waiting list data was absolutely inexcusable and any individual or NHS organisation that fraudulently manipulated their performance data would face serious consequences. He called on the service to ensure that its data collection systems were robust and asked trusts to examine thoroughly how they record waiting times by the end of June.

Sir Nigel has asked trusts where specific problems have been identified by the Audit Commission to report back to him by the end of the month on the nature of the problem and to confirm what action has been taken. The Commission had been asked to carry out the study of the way the NHS manages waiting time information to ensure the public could be confident with the data. Problems found included systems weaknesses where electronic records were kept but not duplicated manually so there was no audit trail; patients details being added to the waiting list several days after they should have been and trusts recording the date a patient cancelled their operation as the date of the cancellation rather than the date the operation should have happened.

In its response to the Commission findings the NHS Confederation said, while any evidence of manipulation of waiting list figures was unacceptable, the report selected 41 hospitals where problems were most likely to occur, and only found evidence of deliberate misreporting at three of them. It said NHS management should not be condemned on the basis of the actions of a small minority of trusts.

Dr Gill Morgan, Chief Executive of the Confederation said, “There now needs to be a recognition that investment in high quality management and administrative systems is an investment in patient care. This is now happening with 2.3 billion pounds being ploughed into NHS information systems over the next three years.”