Poll: Colchester hospital trust cleared of manipulating cancer waiting times

Colchester General Hospital, run by CHUFT.

Colchester General Hospital, run by CHUFT. - Credit: Su Anderson

Two reports published today have cleared the trust running Colchester’s hospitals of any wrong-doing over its cancer waiting times.

Dr Lucy Moore, interim chief executive at CHUFT.

Dr Lucy Moore, interim chief executive at CHUFT. - Credit: Archant

Neither an independent investigation commissioned by directors at Colchester Hospital University Foundation NHS Trust (CHUFT) nor a report produced by health watchdog Monitor has found any evidence of manipulation of data.

Both also said there was no sign of a “systemic bullying culture” at the trust or that “there was at any time an instruction to staff to manipulate data or make inappropriate adjustments to cancer data”.

It said one manager had not adequately explained the reasons behind changing data, which had led to concerns which were not resolved at the time.

A retrospective review carried out by the trust of 822 patients mostly likely to have been affected found 16 cases of possible deliberate and inappropriate data entry, but in none of these cases could intent be established to deliberately falsify the figures.

Colchester Hospital University Foundation NHS Trust leadership faces Colchester Borough Council's Sc

Colchester Hospital University Foundation NHS Trust leadership faces Colchester Borough Council's Scrutiny Panel. (L-R) Peter Wilson, CHUFT chairman, Dr Lucy Moore, CHUFT chief executive, Tom Fleetwood, CHUFT non-executive director. - Credit: Archant

A number of small discrepancies were found between recorded and actual patient data, which was put down to wrong interpretations of guidelines.

A review of this work concluded: “The overarching impression was there was evidence of inaccuracies in the cancer waits data but this was as likely to negatively impact on the trust’s performance statistics as enhance them.

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“This suggested the issue was one of effectiveness and competence in the cancer management team rather than a deliberate manipulation.”

The review also found some patients had not received the best quality of care, but said this was in line with other acute hospital trusts and it was impossible to say whether they suffered long-term harm.

Sir Bob Russell, MP for Colchester.

Sir Bob Russell, MP for Colchester. - Credit: Andrew Partridge

However one patient clearly suffered harm, and action has now been taken in relation to this case.

Dr Lucy Moore, interim chief executive at CHUFT, said: “I welcome the publication of this report and I am very pleased there appears to be no evidence of systematic data manipulation at the trust.

“It is important that we now rebuild confidence in the cancer services provided here in Colchester. We have service improvements to make and make them we will.

“We apologise unreservedly to any of our patients who have suffered delays in treatment or diagnosis or who have received poor care.

Bernard Jenkin, MP for Harwich and North Essex.

Bernard Jenkin, MP for Harwich and North Essex.

“We are continuing to work with our health partners to improve the quality of our cancer services.”

The independent report did say the initial management of the investigation after concerns were raised had been mishandled, but since the main people involved no longer worked at the trust any further action would be inappropriate.

A patient first made allegations of data manipulation in 2011 but it was not until November 2013 when the Care Quality Commission (CQC) raised concerns and the trust was placed in special measures that an independent investigation was launched.

Adam Cayley, regional director at Monitor said: “Today‟s report should bring a very difficult chapter in the history of this trust to a close.

“It is reassuring to find that there is no evidence of staff being bullied into changing cancer data, but it is even clearer that there were serious managerial failures at the trust.

“The new management team at the hospital is already delivering improvements for patients – a process we expect to see continue.”

The trust is still waiting for a CQC report following an inspection in November which raised concerns around quality of care in its accident and emergency department, and is facing a significant financial shortfall.

What the MPs say:

Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell said: “No hospital in Britain over the past year has been subjected to the intensive scrutiny than that which has happened at Colchester Hospital.

“Out of this comes findings which should give cancer patients in particular, and the wider public of this part of Essex, assurances that alongside the most modern cancer treatment centre in the country we have a service which is in line with the national statistical evidence of other hospital trusts in England.

“It is important that we all now do everything we can to rebuild confidence in the cancer services, and the hospital generally.

“This has been a difficult year for the Hospital and all who work there. I pay tribute to staff for the wonderful way they have performed while under such attention from the media and various layers of NHS officialdom and health organisations.

“A dark cloud has now been lifted. I look forward to happier times ahead.”

Bernard Jenkin, MP for Harwich and North Essex, said the experience at Colchester hospital had spurred him to launch a Public Accounts Select Committee inquiry into how incidents of clinical failure and subsequent complaints are handled by the NHS.

Mr Jenkin said: “People in the NHS, including doctors and nurses, as well as managers or patients and their relatives, need to have a ‘safe space’ where they can download what they think might have gone wrong with someone’s treatment.

“This should not feel like ‘whistleblowing’. It should become routine.

“Then independent and clinically qualified people should be able to meet everyone and get to the facts. This is not to find fault or people to blame, but so they can recommend changes in organisation, training, practice and procedure to help prevent the same mistakes being made again.

“This is all that most people who complain actually want.”