NHS Lothian set for second probe into its waiting times

A FURTHER probe into NHS Lothian waiting lists is set to be carried out, it has emerged.

Friday, 4th May 2012, 1:00 pm

The health board has said it plans to follow the Scottish Government’s direction to every board in the country to review waiting times practices as part of its internal audit this year.

And it could also be scrutinised by Audit Scotland as part of a newly announced independent national review of waiting times practices.

The extra studies come after an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed in March that NHS Lothian had wrongly suspended around 5000 people from its waiting lists in order to hit targets.

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Lothians MSP David McLetchie welcomed the news.

“I don’t think there’s any point replicating what’s already been done, but if there are aspects that haven’t been mentioned in relation to NHS Lothian, for the sake of national conformity across the board, it would be sensible to look at them,” he said.

A spokesman for Audit Scotland said it had yet to decide whether its independent national study would include a re-examination of NHS Lothian’s practices in the wake of the PwC report.

It will examine the use of patient unavailability codes – which are entered onto NHS computers to explain why people are not available for surgery. NHS Lothian staff were found to have been using these erroneously in large numbers to make sure patients didn’t show up in figures for people waiting more than 18 weeks for surgery.

The PwC study also reported “inappropriate and oppressive management styles”, which are now the subject of a separate investigation.

An Audit Scotland spokesman said: “The Auditor General has asked Audit Scotland to look at the use of patient unavailability codes in the management of NHS waiting times.

“Audit Scotland will look at how these codes were being used by health boards in Scotland during the past year [and] will prepare a report on its findings, which the Auditor General will present to Parliament after its summer recess.”

He added that it would be announced in due course whether NHS Lothian would be included.

Ms Nicola Sturgeon welcomed news of the Audit Scotland work. “The practices that were identified in NHS Lothian are completely unacceptable and we have ensured that they no longer take place,” she said.

“There is absolutely no evidence that these practices are widespread. However, it is important to show that recording of waiting times data is accurate and transparent.

“That is why I have asked all territorial health boards to undertake a specific and detailed audit of local waiting times management and processes, as part of each Board’s internal audit programme over 2012-13. I can now confirm that Audit Scotland have also agreed to undertake a separate audit themselves.”