Published: 00:00, 19 March 2004
AN INDEPENDENT investigation has found that staff employed by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust deliberately falsified patient waiting list figures.
Two of those alleged to have been involved resigned rather than go through disciplinary hearings although a third did and was disciplined.
A fourth person, who later left the Trust and worked for the Kent and Medway Strategic Health Authority, also resigned before a disciplinary hearing could take place.
The irregularities in the Trust’s reporting of its waiting list performance came to the notice of the Kent and Medway Strategic Health Authority in the winter of 2002/3.
It was alleged that administration staff at the Trust failed to report that more than 200 outpatients were forced to wait more than 26 weeks for an appointment with a consultant. Most of them were said to be waiting to see eye specialists.
Under government guidelines all patients who had waited more than 26 weeks for a first appointment with a consultant should have been reported to the health authority.
The 200-plus patients affected are thought to have all been due to have appointment between April and December 2002.
After the irregularities were discovered four members of staff were suspended while the authority carried out an internal investigation. It then appointed Professor Robert Tinson to lead an independent external inquiry.
In a report to the SHA Board chief executive Candy Morris said: “Although on the face of it the Trust had systems in place to record an accurate picture of local service activity, there had been a deliberate misrepresentation of the numbers waiting over 26 weeks for an outpatient appointment, and the non-reporting of trolley waits.”
Ms Morris added that the adequacy of the Trust’s “whistle blowing” policy had been questioned by the inquiry. It also thought that the Trust’s lines of responsibility and accountability had become blurred.
She added that the inquiry had found that the Trust had “an inappropriate view of its own independence” in the period after the NHS reforms of 2002.
However, action had since been taken and the health authority’s executive directors were now satisfied that Trust’s information reporting processes were as “robust and appropriate” as possible.
“New policies on corporate reporting, information management, waiting list management and voicing concerns by staff have been implemented,” she added.