Doubts over NHS waiting time figures, after watchdog uncovers 'inconsistencies'

 

Health Reporter

Serious doubts have been cast over the reliability of NHS waiting times figures, after the Government’s financial watchdog identified “inconsistencies” in the way that hospital trusts measure and record data.

In a sample of 650 patient files from seven NHS trusts, the National Audit Office found 202 incomplete records, and 167 instances of errors being made in recording when patients began and ended their wait for treatment.

In 129 of these cases the trust had reported the patient waiting for a shorter time than was actually the case and for 26 patients, trusts incorrectly said they had met the key 18-week waiting time target, when in reality they had not.

The NAO said, in light of their report, published waiting times figures for the NHS “need to be treated with a degree of caution”.

It is the second major warning over the reliability of key official data in as many weeks, following the decision of the UK Statistics Authority to withdraw the gold standard “national statistics” status from police recorded crime figures in England and Wales, amid allegations that the data had been subject to “a degree of fiddling”.

The NAO’s report to Parliament on NHS waiting times in England did not make any allegations of intentional altering of figures.

However, it did refer to recent allegations that waiting times for cancer treatment were changed at the Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust. Health watchdog the Care Quality Commission reported that three members of staff at the hospital said they had felt “pressured, bullied or harassed” to change official data on patients’ care so as not to breach national guidelines. The hospital is now subject to a criminal investigation.

The 18-week waiting time standard – the time between a GP referral and the start of consultant-led treatment – was introduced in 2008 and, according to existing figures, had a “rapid and significant effect on reducing the numbers of people waiting a long time for treatment”, the NAO said. Between October 2011 and October 2012 the number of people each month waiting longer than 18 weeks fell from 234,000 to 138,000 – although this figure has risen again recently to 169,000 in October 2013.

Waiting times are being carefully monitored by the Government, as concerns grow among front line staff that the health service is struggling to cope with the biggest financial squeeze in its history.

A spokesperson for the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Overall waiting times remain low and stable, with the number of patients waiting longer than 18, 26 and 52 weeks lower than at any time under the last Government. It’s crucial that reporting is always accurate, and we will work with the NHS to make sure hospital staff get the support they need to get this right.”

The NAO said that NHS in England lacked “sufficient assurance” about how trusts are performing and urged health officials to seek “additional assurance, possibly through a regime of test checking.”

Amyas Morse, comptroller and auditor general at the NAO said that “against a background of an increasing number of patients being referred to trusts, the financial pressure on the NHS and the need to make efficiency savings”, hospitals were finding it more challenging to meet the 18-week standard.

“If this challenge is to be met, then performance information should be reliable. However, we have found significant errors and inconsistencies in how trusts record waiting time, masking a good deal of variation between trusts in actual waiting times,” he said. “The solution is not costly new processes, rather making sure existing processes work properly and are properly scrutinized.” 

The report also found that patients were unaware of their rights and responsibilities under the 18-week standard. Most trusts refer a patient back to their GP if they miss their first outpatient appointment – restarting the waiting time clock. The NAO estimated that patients who missed their first hospital appointments cost the NHS £225m in 2012-13.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, UI, JMX, FIX)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, U...

    Structured Finance

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - An excellent new instruction w...

    SQL Server Developer

    £500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Server Developer SQL, PHP, C#, Real Time,...

    C#.NET Developer

    £600 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, Win Forms, WPF, WCF, MVVM...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone