Incorrect performance data given to public by hospitals
It has been revealed that a large portion of hospitals within the UK have wrongly been assessing their own performance.
The blunder could leave the services open to accusations of medical negligence due to misleading the public about the levels of patient safety.
The crisis emerged after it was exposed that some trusts are drawing up proposals to cut more than 10% from their budget in an attempt to save the NHS. As much as £20 billion could be wiped out in the next three years.
The Care Quality Commission, which is in charge of inspecting hospital trusts, discovered that 17 of the 28 it inspected in 2009 had assessed themselves wrongly.
Hospitals in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, London, Leicestershire and parts of the South West have already started consulting staff about which wards and services will need to be axed.
Other hospitals include Chesterfield Royal, in Derbyshire, which has confirmed that it intends to cut 12% off its budget over the next three years, a move that would probably see it downgrade its coronary care facility.
Leicester Hospitals have warned staff that 700 jobs are likely to go, the equivalent of nearly 10% of the workforce.
Barnsley Hospital in South Yorkshire is understood to be planning to close three wards and three operating theatres, and lastly there are proposals to shut 200 beds at Gloucester Royal and Cheltenham General hospitals.
Chief executive of the Chesterfield Royal, Eric Morton, said that the necessity to cut costs exposed the “reality of the financial challenge for the whole NHS.”
Understandably workers are worried about their jobs and unions are increasingly anxious about the scale and depth of any NHS cuts.
A spokesman for the Royal College of Nursing said: “We don't have a full picture and that is part of the problem. What we are worried about is that trusts will take a slash and burn approach and make short-term cuts to specialist nursing services. We are not against efficiency savings – far from it. But patient safety has to come first.”
Unison, which represents the majority of the NHS's 1.7 million staff, said it was “not prepared to countenance compulsory redundancies.”
Despite the surprise, the actual news of cost cutting is not new. Last year, the Government asked NHS authorities to come up with ideas and plans to reorganise the service to save money as a result of the financial downturn.
Details have started to emerge of what is likely to be a rolling programme of cuts but most of the internal consultations are being kept under lock and key until after the general election, opposition MPs have claimed.
Paul Holmes, the Liberal Democrat MP for Chesterfield, said: “The hospital chief executive has promised there will be no job losses. But when asked will there be fewer or more staff in three years, he admitted there will be fewer.
“There is no doubt the cuts at my local hospital are part of a programme to save £20 billion over the next three years across the country. And you have to take with a pinch of salt that this will have no impact on jobs or on patients.”
Hiding the truth
Some professionals have argued that the quality of information provided by the trusts about their performance highlights that fact that they are trying to hide personal injury claims, and lead the public into a false sense of security at poor standard hospitals, where accident claims are high.
Professor Brian Jarman, who developed a system of measuring hospital mortality rates used in the annual Dr Foster hospital guide to patient safety, noted the system is open to manipulation.
“My view is that patients do not realise that hospitals are self assessing. I could hardly believe it until I read it. And I really could hardly believe that they would say and publish that hospitals are 'good' when we're saying that they are very, very bad, and have been bad for ten years. They (the trusts) are saying that they are good based on their own self inspection.”
Responding to the mistake, a spokesman for the Care Quality Commission said a new checking system will be coming soon.
He said: “We will be using our data sources to monitor trusts' performance on a continual, even day-to-day, basis, and we will have the flexibility to carry out unannounced checks whenever we feel there is a particular concern.”