A probe has been ordered into a major Lothians hospital after a whistleblowing complaint revealed that flagship A&E waiting times were being wrongly recorded by staff.
The number of patients waiting longer than the four hour target may have been understated at St John’s hospital in Livingston after staff bypassed “national guidance” in favour of their own system.
Staff in the emergency department “felt pressured” into meeting the national target, according to the whistleblower who alerted health Secretary Shona Robison to the situation.
But NHS Lothian chiefs have insisted that there was no evidence of “bullying or harassment” after an internal probe undertaken into the situation. They insisted that staff had acted with “the best of intentions.”
But the situation was nonethless deemed serious enough for Ms Robison to order an independent review by the Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges led by Professor Derek Bell.
St John’s is one of the biggest hospitals in Scotland and takes admissions from across the Lothians, including Edinburgh.
Ms Robison was first alerted to the claims last month after concerns were raised by a whistle-blower and she instructed NHS Lothian to carry out a full investigation which confirmed the concerns.
The review will report back to the Cabinet Secretary early in the new year.
Ms Robison said: “These are serious allegations and the early findings are clearly a cause for concern.
“That is why I have asked Professor Bell to lead an independent review of these allegations.
“We are working very closely with the Board to ensure that lessons are learned from the investigation and recommendations made are fully implemented as soon as possible and shared across NHS Scotland.”
Jim Crombie, Deputy Chief Executive, NHS Lothian, said: “As soon as we received these concerns, an internal audit team was appointed, headed by a senior non-executive director to oversee the investigation and get to the bottom of the concerns.
“We will cooperate with and support the work being carried out by the external review team.”
The internal review found staff in St John’s Hospital have been applying “locally produced guidelines” on how to record patients who breach the four hour access standard which do not comply with national guidance.
But it claimed there was no evidence of “bullying or harassment” during interviews, but that busy staff had produced their own reference guides for inputting information.
The report added: “Local procedures were drafted with the best of intentions of clarifying to staff when a patient has or has not breached the four-hour access target.”
It meant that some patients who may have been recorded as breaching the waiting time performance target, were not included in departmental performance reports.
Labour’s health spokesperson Anas Sarwar MSP said: “These are deeply troubling findings that will concern patients across NHS Lothian and beyond.
“It is absolutely right that they are independently investigated. But the reality is SNP mismanagement has left NHS staff across Scotland over-worked, under-valued and under-resourced.
“Labour would use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in our health service and provide NHS staff and patients with the support they deserve.”