UK & World News
NHS Waiting Times: 'Unreliable' Stats Hide Delays
Patients can not rely on NHS waiting time figures when choosing a hospital because the information is often recorded wrongly, the National Audit Office has found.
Treatment statistics are often inconsistent and unreliable, with waiting times shortened in a fifth of cases, the watchdog found.
The National Audit Office reviewed 650 cases of patients having orthopaedic surgery in seven trusts and found that overall there was a tendency for misrecording data to hide delays rather than exaggerate waiting times.
In 129 cases the waiting times had been shortened, with patients actually having their operations six weeks later than suggested by the official record.
The figures were recorded accurately in 281 cases - fewer than half.
The NAO said that it was not possible to tell if the inaccurate reporting was deliberate, but that it should be investigated.
The NAO's Keith Hawkswell told Sky News: "We think the Department of Health and NHS England need to make sure that consistent and reliable waiting time information is provided by hospital trusts in future.
"At the moment we don't think the data provided by hospital trusts is sufficiently comparable and that means as a patient, if you're trying to decide which hospital to go to and waiting time matters, you haven't got a solid basis on on which to decide."
However, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told Sky News denied that figures were "falsified" and said that waiting times were "low and stable".
He said: "The report is not talking about hospitals falsifying figures, it's talking about different methods of collation and we want to make sure we get those right.
"But overall it recognises the changes that this Government has brought in have actually led to a dramatic fall in the number of people waiting a long time."
At Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, police are already investigating allegations that cancer waiting times were deliberately falsified.
NHS targets say 90% of admitted hospital patients should start their treatment within 18 weeks.
Of those patients who do not need admitting to hospital, 95% should be seen within 18 weeks of referral by their GP.
Mr Hunt will today try to improve patients' experience in hospitals by saying that they must offer patients "whole stay doctors" who will look after them throughout their treatment.
He wants to tackle the "fragmentation of care experienced by patients in hospitals" and to make sure patients are treated like people rather than numbers or problems.
Later in a speech at St Thomas' Hospital in central London Mr Hunt will highlight how action is needed to stop patients feeling like they are being passed from pillar to post.
It comes after an announcement in November that patients should have the name of a consultant above their bed.
He will say: "Every day, the first thing I do when I arrive at work at the Department of Health is to read and reply to a letter from someone whose NHS care has gone wrong.
"Of course I know that for every mistake there are many instances of superb care.
"But as Health Secretary I want to know where the problems are because I want to sort them out."
Mr Hunt will describe a letter he received from a lady whose husband passed away after "what can only be described as two years of chaotic care".
Individual hospitals will be asked to develop their own plans for how whole stay doctors will work in practice.
Professor Norman Williams, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: "The progressive fragmentation of care that we have seen in the NHS is not only confusing and damaging for patients but also undermines the professionalism of medical teams.
"We have to end the situation where patients are shuttled from one member of staff to another with no one individual taking responsibility for ensuring they receive the right treatment at the right time and in the right place.
"Having one named consultant in charge across a hospital stay will help bring about an important cultural change and reassure patients that they are not lost in the system, with no-one overseeing the totality of their care."
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