Colchester General Hospital: Police probe cancer treatment

Trust chief executive Dr Gordon Coutts apologised for ''letting patients down''

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A hospital cancer unit is being investigated by police after staff said they were being "pressured or bullied" to falsify data relating to patients.

"Inaccuracies" were found with waiting time data relating to cancer treatment at Colchester hospital, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found.

Patients' lives may have been put at risk, the hospitals inspector said.

Essex Police said it was looking into whether a "criminal investigation" was needed.

Staff told inspectors they were "pressured or bullied" to change data relating to patients and their treatment to make it seem people were being treated in line with national guidelines, the CQC said.

New management

The findings were reported to police "due to the serious failings identified", it added.

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Such a situation is unprecedented in the NHS - and as a result the temptation is to dismiss it as a one-off that should be seen in isolation. Unfortunately, it would be complacent to do so.”

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Dr Gordon Coutts, chief executive at the Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We are truly sorry that in some cases cancer patients, their carers and families have not always received the high quality of care that they should have expected from our trust."

Professor Sir Mike Richards, chief inspector of hospitals, recommended the trust be put into special measures, which could lead to a new management team being installed or another trust put in charge.

Prof Sir Mike Richards: ''It's serious that patients have had their diagnosis and treatment... delayed''

He said: "It is shocking to think that people's lives may have been put at risk for the sake of the waiting-time figures."

Criminal investigation

NHS England said it would lead an incident management team of cancer specialists to ensure the safety of cancer patients at the hospital.

There will also be a review looking back as far as 2010 to check whether any other patients had their records changed or "inappropriately recorded".

The CQC said its inspectors visited the trust in August and September after receiving complaints about waiting times for cancer treatment.

It said some patients did not get their treatment within the required 62 days and in three cases delays exceeded 100 days.

"Six people described problems experienced in their treatment, including delays in receiving care," the report said.

"The provider did not have adequate systems to maintain the safety and welfare of cancer patients."

Analysis

The story of Colchester Hospital is a battle over patient safety versus reputation.

Ever since the trust which runs Colchester Hospital was named among 14 with higher than expected death rates in February, it has been fighting to regain its reputation for excellence.

Many hospitals inspected by Sir Bruce Keogh readily conceded failing and went into special measures.

Colchester escaped and with some good reason. Its finances are in good shape, and inspectors found fewer issues on the wards and in the operating theatres.

Since the summer, the hospital has felt the pressure. It is desperate to persuade the Keogh Review action team that improvements are being made.

But in July there was a blip.

Monthly performance data should be a sea of green showing the hospital was meeting targets. But after a year of meeting its cancer targets, those targets were breached and the chart turned to red.

The latest CQC inspection has further dented its reputation.

The CQC identified 22 cases where patients experienced delays in their care.

Essex Police said it had been contacted by the CQC and was "reviewing information" to "establish whether a criminal investigation is necessary".

In a statement, the CQC said: "We found that the concerns raised by staff in relation to changes made to people's cancer pathways were not appropriately managed, investigated or responded to by senior staff of the trust.

"Staff we spoke to provided examples of bullying and harassment by the management team in respect of changes of the cancer pathways.

"We found that managers did not show clear leadership in a way that ensured the safety and welfare of patients by providing a high quality of care."

Royal College of Nursing regional director Karen Webb said: "The CQC report concerning Colchester Hospital does chime with concerns we have voiced on behalf of nurses.

"It is right that the hospital is placed in special measures."

About 6,000 people a year receive cancer treatment at the trust.

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