1/22/14, "NHS waiting time data for elective surgery 'unreliable'," BBC, Nick Triggle
"Patients in England cannot rely on information on waiting times for non-emergency operations, such as knee and hip replacements, a watchdog says.
The National Audit Office found wrong and inconsistent recording after reviewing 650 cases in seven trusts.
The watchdog said it was unable to discern whether this was deliberate, but says it should be investigated.
The government says waiting times are "low and stable" but it will work with the NHS to ensure accurate reporting.
The NAO said that overall there was a tendency for the practices to conceal delays rather than over-record waits....
Patients are meant to be treated within 18 weeks of a referral and the NHS is currently meeting its targets on this - but only just.
The waits are monitored by hospitals, but they have the power to pause the clock if a patient is unavailable for appointments for personal or social reasons. The patient can also be sent back to their GP - which means the clock starts all over again - if they fail to attend appointments.
But the watchdog said this leeway was being applied wrongly or inconsistently in 167 of the cases they looked at - just over a quarter of the total.
The NAO also highlighted other cases that were brought to its attention during the review.
These included North West London Hospitals Trust failing to record the waiting times of 2,700 of its inpatients, while Barnet and Chase Farm failed to properly monitor more than 2,000 patients. The problems have now been rectified.
There is also the well-publicised case of Colchester Hospital's misrecording of cancer waiting times.
The report urged NHS England to apply greater scrutiny to waiting-time statistics to establish what was really happening.
NAO head Amyas Morse said: "Performance information should be reliable. However, we have found significant errors and inconsistencies in how trusts record waiting times, masking a good deal of variation between trusts in actual waiting times."
Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association, said the findings were "concerning", accusing the NHS of deliberately manipulating the figures....
NHS England said action would be taken. "We firmly believes it is essential to have accurate information provided in a timely way to ensure better care for patients," said NHS England's director of policy and strategy, Bill McCarthy.
A spokeswoman for Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "Overall waiting times remain low and stable, with the number of patients waiting longer than 18, 26 and 52 weeks lower than at any time under the last government."