New criminal offence to stop NHS hospitals fiddling figures to be introduced
A new criminal offence to stop NHS hospitals fiddling official figures is to be introduced by ministers in the wake of the Mid Staffordshire scandal.Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, is to announce that senior NHS managers and hospital trusts will be held criminally liable if they manipulate figures on waiting times or death rates.
Trusts could be fined millions of pounds and managers jailed if they are found to have falsified data used by patients to select where they are treated.
Several NHS hospitals have been accused recently of seeking to obscure high mortality rates by “mis-recording” the reasons for deaths. Such practices make it hard for regulators and the public to identify hospitals that have poor standards of treatment.
Nurses have also alleged privately that they have been told to “massage” waiting time figures by changing the recorded time when patients are treated or discharged.
Mr Hunt said “This is about a transparent, honest and accountable NHS. Patients and the public should be confident that they can trust information about how hospitals are performing, and a culture of honesty and accuracy will help those organisations drive up standards of care.”
“If NHS Trusts are caught deliberately manipulating that information, whether waiting times or death rates, they need to be held to account.”
Ministers believe that one of the main failings at Mid Staffs was the lack of transparency about what was going wrong.
Therefore, in future, medical staff will be under a “duty of candour” to admit mistakes, and NHS trusts will be banned from silencing former staff who wish to blow the whistle.
The criminal sanctions will be put in place to ensure that NHS hospitals publish straightforward “patient relevant data”. Board members of NHS trusts and individual senior managers responsible for the data would be held criminally liable for seeking to manipulate information.
Health regulators, the Department of Health or members of the public would be able to report NHS hospitals and managers to the police if they had concerns about the data being released.
Death rates are being closely scrutinised by regulators and ministers to highlight potentially poor care. More than a dozen hospitals are being investigated by the medical director of the NHS for having higher than expected death rates.
The Department of Health hopes that the threat of criminal prosecution will help to deter hospitals from seeking to “game” league tables.
A recent survey of nurses also uncovered evidence of even more blatant attempts to manipulate information. Four in 10 nurses said they were aware of attempts to change data, and one in 10 saying they had to change times of patient discharge to meet waiting time targets.
Police and prosecutors are due to meet to discuss the possibility of a criminal investigation. However, the current criminal law is thought to be limited and make the prosecutions of medical staff and managers unlikely.