Report finds inconsistencies and inaccuracies in hospital waiting times

A NAO report has found inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the way that seven hospital trusts record

A NAO report has found inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the way that seven hospital trusts recorded waiting times. - Credit: Evening News © 2009

East Anglian hospitals have offered reassurances following a national report which found some hospitals are failing to accurately monitor how long thousands of their patients are waiting for treatment.

Research by the National Audit Office (NAO) discovered several trusts in England were often 'mis-recording' data, with some saying either patients waited less time than they did for treatment, or longer.

Today hospitals in Norfolk and Suffolk have offered their reassurances into how they record the data relating to the NHS 18-week targets for patients to start their treatment after being referred by a GP or admitted to hospital.

A spokesman for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said: 'To ensure waiting times are accurate, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has a monthly programme of audits which cover each hospital specialty where checks are made on the accuracy of the data.

'Managers regularly review the trust's performance on 18 weeks and look for improvements in waiting times.

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'There are many staff involved in the Referral to Treatment pathway, including clinicians, medical secretaries and booking clerks, who all ensure the patient pathway conforms to the Referral to Treatment methodology.

'There is a clear policy, guidance and an annual training programme in place to ensure that staff understand the pathway and the importance of accuracy when recording data.'

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A spokesman for West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust said: 'We do everything we can to ensure the accuracy of all of our data, including auditing the information which is reported to our board, and regularly review our practices and processes to make sure we comply with national requirements.'

Barbara Cummings, executive director of planning and performance, for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital King's Lynn NHS Foundation Trust, said: 'Our performance data is independently audited and this has given us assurance that our 18 week waiting time figures are accurate. However, we are not complacent, and we will continue to be vigilant in monitoring the accuracy of our data'.

James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust director of operations Sue Watkinson said: 'The trust's waiting time information for individual patients is held within a nationally procured Patient Administration System (PAS) that is compliant with NHS definitions.

'In line with any national report of this nature, the trust will review the findings and recommendations from the National Audit Office and reconcile these against the trust's own policies and procedures to provide assurance that the trust is following accepted practice and to identify any areas where further improvements can be made.'

The NAO report said mis-recording of data was identified at The North West London, Barnet and Chase Farm and Colchester hospital trusts.

At Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, police are already investigating allegations that cancer waiting times were deliberately falsified.

A Care Quality Commission (CQC) report into Colchester found that, in 22 cases, the treatment dates recorded on the system had been changed.

The NAO report reviewed 650 orthopaedic patient waiting times across seven hospital trusts.

'More than half of these were not supported by documented evidence or were incorrectly recorded,' it said.

In 281 cases, waiting times had been correctly recorded and were supported by documented evidence.

But in 202 cases, waiting times were not supported by enough evidence to say whether they had been correctly recorded.

And in a further 167 cases, there was 'evidence of at least one error, leading to under and over-recording of waiting time'.

'There was an overall under-recording of three weeks (mean) per patient,' it concluded.

The report said the typical waiting time for patients who had received treatment was 'steadily increasing'.

And it said local variations in how the waiting time rules were applied - with some of this variation sanctioned by NHS England - meant the performance of individual trusts was not directly comparable.

The report concluded: 'Value for money is being undermined by the problems with the completeness, consistency and accuracy of patient waiting time data; and by differences in the way that patient referrals to hospitals are managed.'

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