Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

NHS Lothian hospital waiting times 'manipulated', report finds

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has told MSPs she is "shocked and extremely angry" at a report into manipulation of waiting times by NHS Lothian.

It found NHS Lothian was marking patients as unavailable to artificially reduce the number in breach of the statutory waiting times guarantees.

The board offered treatment in England at short notice and recorded them as unavailable if they did not travel.

NHS Lothian apologised "unreservedly" for the "unacceptable" practices.

The findings follow an external review commissioned by Ms Sturgeon.

An investigation has now been ordered into NHS Lothian's management culture.

Ms Sturgeon said the practice was "completely unacceptable" and that the report had found the management culture in NHS Lothian contributed to the problem.

'Considerable anger'

She had instructed the chairperson of NHS Lothian to carry out an investigation into the extent of such a culture within the health board and what needed to be done about it.

The health secretary said she had taken steps to assure herself that all other health boards in Scotland were acting in line with the waiting times guidance.

She also called for a specific and detailed audit to be carried out into local waiting times management and process as part of each each health board's internal audit programme over 2012/13.

"My reaction to this report is one of disappointment and considerable anger," Ms Sturgeon said.

"Waiting times guarantees matter. Patients value them and staff work hard to deliver them. I will not tolerate the manipulation of them."

Disciplinary proceedings are under way into what could be "serious misconduct", she said.

The report found the management culture put staff under pressure to find "tactical solutions" to waiting times rather than tackle the root causes.

'Deeply concerned'

NHS Lothian's chief executive, Professor James Barbour, said: "On behalf of NHS Lothian I would wish to apologise personally to any patients affected and assure them that these problems will not recur.

"We have already addressed many of the review's key findings. Unacceptable practices were stopped forthwith last October.

"£4m has been invested this year to double our capacity to treat patients in key specialties. We have reaffirmed strict operational procedures for the proper management of waiting times."

Prof Barbour said bullying and harassment had "never been tolerated in NHS Lothian" and pledged to follow up immediately any claims of this through the health board's own internal inquiry.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said she too was shocked and angry the "figures had been fiddled" and called for a Scotland-wide inquiry and a full and thorough review by Audit Scotland of every health board in Scotland.

Conservative David McLetchie said that as a Lothian MSP, he was "appalled" by the revelations.

He added: "There is no getting away from the fact that at certain level within NHS Lothian there has been more concern about the doctoring of statistics than there has about the treatment of patients."

Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: "I am deeply concerned by the finding that staff were under "unacceptable pressure" to fiddle lists, with a culture of "no bad news" around waiting times. This culture must change."

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