LOTHIAN hospital patients were the only ones in Scotland to fall victim to a systematic manipulation of waiting list figures, a Government probe has revealed.
Audits at Scotland’s 14 health boards were ordered earlier this year after it emerged that NHS Lothian had deliberately fiddled figures to hit Government targets.
There were widespread fears that the practice, described as “completely unacceptable” by Health Secretary Alex Neil at Holyrood yesterday, had spread to other areas.
But he revealed to MSPs that “no evidence” has emerged to suggest patients in other parts of Scotland had been treated in the same way.
Patients not included in waiting list figures had to wait months for treatment – and in hundreds of cases well over a year – to be seen.
Mr Neil said: “The reports show that there is no evidence of deliberate manipulation of the figures like those found at NHS Lothian.”
He added: “Since the Lothian report, substantial progress has been achieved. NHS Lothian has a number of recommendations from its internal audit which I expect to be fully implemented on time.”
The waiting list scandal erupted last year after it emerged that patients were being given unrealistic offers of operations in the north of England, and were not included in official figures if they refused.
A subsequent PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) audit, published in March, revealed that “excessive and inappropriate” use of computer systems had been made in which patients were classed as unavailable for treatment. It was found that patient records had been changed retrospectively, often just before figures were due to be reported. It emerged that 2000 inpatients and approximately 5000 outpatients had actually waited over the 12-week target. The bill for sorting the mess is expected be £27 million this year.
Following the publication of the PwC report and a subsequent audit that uncovered a bullying culture at the health board, chief executive James Barbour retired.
Chief operating officer Jackie Sansbury, who had responsibility for reporting figures to the NHS Lothian board, was demoted while Jane Todd, director of operations, was suspended and later sacked.
NHS Lothian’s internal audit into waiting lists, published yesterday, revealed the number of patients classed as unavailable had dropped substantially, and is now among of the lowest in Scotland. But other areas that “required improvement” were identified.
NHS Lothian medical director Dr David Farquharson said: “The numbers of inpatients now waiting over 12 weeks for an appointment has been cut by three-quarters and outpatients has been reduced by half.
“The findings of the internal audit has identified some issues around waiting times. However, the majority of these are consistent with the PricewaterhouseCoopers review carried out earlier this year. Many of the action plans set out in the internal audit were under way prior to it being issued. Reducing our waiting times remains a key priority.”
SALMOND REJECTS ‘MELTDOWN’ FEARS
SCOTLAND’S First Minister and Health Secretary have faced questions at Holyrood following claims Lothian’s major hospitals are on the verge of “meltdown”.
We revealed yesterday how health bosses are said to be on the brink of a declaring a ‘red alert’ due to pressure over beds, largely caused by surges in norovirus cases, delayed discharges and patient numbers.
Labour MSP Sarah Boyack raised fears over the state of our hospitals during First Minister’s Questions yesterday.
Ms Boyack asked First Minister Alex Salmond whether he was aware of the fears of Lothian staff who had reported “tremendous pressure” over beds before asking Health Secretary Alex Neil (pictured) to accept that “systemic underfunding” lay at the heart of the waiting list crisis. Mr Salmond refuted Ms Boyack’s claims that Mr Neil had issued “complacent reassurances” during the current period of unprecedented demand on health services. He then added: “As the member will be aware there’s a number of reasons for real pressure on beds at the present moment in terms of some of the illnesses that are widespread in the community.”