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“Waiting list data must become more robust”

The chair of the Committee of Public Accounts comments on its new report on waiting lists which suggests the data behind them needs to be better managed and independently audited:

“Public confidence in the success hospital trusts have had in meeting the 18 week waiting time target is inevitably undermined by errors in trusts’ recording of waiting time information. Trusts are struggling with a hotchpotch of IT and paper-based systems that are not easily pulled together, which makes it difficult for trusts to track and collate the information needed to manage and record patients’ waiting times.

“The National Audit Office reviewed cases at seven trusts, and found that waiting times for nearly a third of cases were not supported by documented evidence, and that a further 26% had at least one error. Waiting list data needs to be independently audited.

“The NHS England guidance on the management of waiting times is complex, allowing trusts some flexibility in how they manage patients’ waiting times. There are, however, unintended consequences, such as variations between trusts in the number of cancellations they allow patients to make before referring them back to their GP, thereby restarting the waiting time ‘clock’. These differences reduce the comparability of trusts’ waiting times.

“If patients cannot be confident of accurate comparable data on the performance of hospitals they cannot exercise choice. Both GPs and their patients need reliable and comparable information about the waiting time performance of individual trusts so that they can make an informed choice about where to be treated.

“Furthermore, patients do not fully understand their rights and responsibilities. It should be a lot easier for patients to interact with hospitals and understand when they will see a consultant, but individual hospital policies on access to treatment are often out of date and not publicly available.

“The online Choose and Book appointment system has been underused by both patients and healthcare professionals. We are sceptical about the NHS’s ability to ensure that the replacement system, e-Referrals, will be used any more fully.”

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