Colchester Hospital: Director resigned over cancer scandal

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Media captionMike Baker said he was disappointed that he had to resign

An executive director at Colchester Hospital felt forced to resign over the cancer waiting times scandal.

Finance director Mike Baker had carried out a flawed inquiry last year over allegations that staff were bullied into changing patient records to meet government targets.

The claims were not made public until last month.

The BBC has also discovered chief executive Dr Gordon Coutts was told of the allegations by a patient, in 2011.

Jon Campbell-Vencarto, who had suspected cancer, said he raised concerns over possible waiting time manipulation, after complaining to a nurse about waiting more than five months for a prostate operation.

The normal waiting time limit is 18 weeks.

The hospital trust is facing three separate inquiries, including a criminal police investigation.

The case came to light after whistleblowers approached the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which then inspected the hospital.

The trust, which was placed in special measures last month, was criticised for failing to undertake a thorough investigation.

'Manipulate waiting list'

Mr Baker told the BBC: "I was planning to retire and when I read the report I decided to bring it forward and I resigned.

"I am disappointed that I had to leave the trust. From my own point of view, I was about to leave the trust anyway but it rather coloured the way I left... I feel I let my people down."

Another director, Rob Bowman, who led HR at the trust, left in March to become deputy managing director of Health Education East of England.

Speaking of talking to the nurse he made the complaint to, Mr Campbell-Vencarto said: "She said it was a joke at the hospital. People were being taken off the waiting lists and put back on again."

Image caption Colchester Hospital is in special measures following the CQC report

His wife, Julie, who also heard the remark said: "We took it to mean that they were manipulating the waiting lists to meet their targets."

The couple wrote to Dr Coutts in April 2011 expressing their concerns, saying: "It has been alleged that hospital management removes patients off the lists and then puts them back on in some type of attempt to manipulate the waiting list system. We were rather alarmed when this was put to us."

In his reply, Dr Coutts said: "If you would like to provide me with any names or evidence of waiting list irregularities I will investigate this matter."

Mr Campbell-Vencarto said the hospital should have carried out that investigation rather than rely on a patient to find the proof.

Dr Coutts was unavailable for comment.

'Respect employees' privacy'

The BBC has also uncovered evidence of the financial pressure the hospital was under to meet its cancer waiting time figures.

Image caption Dr Gordon Coutts became a board director at the hospital in September 2010

In January 2012, around the time staff were told to change patient files, the hospital failed to meet three key targets, including patients with breast cancer symptoms being seen by a consultant within two weeks.

North East Essex Primary Care Trust fined the trust £16,000 for those breaches to cancer standards and ordered a remedial action plan.

The trust board is due to meet later and will hear it has failed the latest quarterly cancer wait times.

Patients should wait no longer than 31 days between diagnosis and first definitive treatment, and 62 days for various pathways, including from cancer screening to first treatment.

In a report to his board of directors, Dr Coutts said: " The CQC report has impacted [on] staff and extra resources have been allocated."

A spokesman for the hospital trust would not talk to the BBC about the departure or suspension of staff or directors related to the CQC report.

"We pride ourselves on protecting the confidentiality of our employees and respecting their privacy," a spokesman said.

"However, the trust is very concerned by the issues raised in the CQC report and will take appropriate disciplinary action against anyone in the organisation who has acted improperly.

"An independent investigation has been set up to establish whether or not there may be a case to answer under the trust's disciplinary policies by any employee concerned in either the handling of, or the response to, concerns that were raised about the cancer pathways. "

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