Published: 09/05/2002, Volume II2, No. 5804 Page 4 5

Barbara Harris - the former chief executive of Royal United Bath Hospitals trust - has condemned an investigation into alleged waiting list fiddles at the trust as 'completely unbalanced, unfair and inaccurate' and based on 'unsubstantiated claims and hearsay'.

Last week the Department of Health said Ms Harris, a former director of the NHS Leadership Centre, had been 'suspended from any post in the trust', following the report commissioned by the trust and south west regional office which claimed there was evidence of 'deliberate falsification' of waiting list figures.

Ms Harris left the trust in April 2001 to run the Leadership Centre, though the trust still technically employs her.

Eight months later she decided to stand down from her position there, following a highly critical Commission for Health Improvement report condemning the management style at Bath at the time of her tenure.

Last Friday, the publication of the waiting list review at Bath headed by Alan Bedford, now acting chief executive of Portsmouth Hospitals trust, found that in May last year 2,000 outpatients waiting more than 13 weeks for a consultant appointment had 'disappeared' from official lists. At the time, the trust reported just 122.

The health of patients did not 'appear' to have been put at risk, but the report goes on to say 'chaotic, complicated and inappropriate actions' led to a failure of details to be reported accurately. It said there was 'some evidence to suggest there may have been deliberate falsification of waiting list figures'.

A separate independent review into the trust's financial position led by Barry Elliott, finance director of Barts and the London trust, which also reported on Friday, discovered a 'serious' deterioration during the financial year ending in March 2002 with the trust now facing a projected deficit of over£17m. This is compared to the potential figure of£4.12m which the trust was working on at the start of the financial year.

The DoH said trust chair Gerald Chown had resigned and hospital finance director Martin Dove had been suspended on full pay. Mr Chown stressed that neither report had criticised him personally but said a new chair with no previous association with the trust would be free to 'deal objectively with the issues raised'.

A spokesperson for the trust said the current chief executive of Royal United Bath Hospitals trust, Richard Gleave, was due to meet with Ms Harris this week. But a representative for Ms Harris said she had not yet been notified of any such meeting. She also said Ms Harris claimed she had not been suspended by the trust, and that Ms Harris was currently continuing to undertake project work for the DoH - a point which the DoH disputed.

And in a statement, Ms Harris attacked the waiting lists review as unfair. She said: 'The trust at all times followed advice and guidelines issued by the regional office on action that could legitimately be taken to meet the targets.' She also flagged up 'widely known and acknowledged problems with an outdated computerised patientmanagement system' which caused 'difficulties pinning down accurate figures'. Claiming the report presented a 'completely unbalanced, unfair and inaccurate picture based on unsubstantiated claims and hearsay', she added: 'It focuses only on the trust's alleged shortcomings without referring to the role of the Avon health authority, the NHS executive south west regional office and the DoH. And it fails to mention the trust's many successes, such as treating an additional 4,500 outpatients during that period.'

A trust spokesperson said: 'The purpose of the review was to determine the problems at the trust. But we are sure the followup investigation [by Robert Tinston, the former North West region director] will be very detailed and look at the responsibility of individuals and that will no doubt be those at all the relevant bodies.'

The reviews into 12 other trusts following last December's National Audit Office's report into waiting list manipulation found that 'no inappropriate adjustments' had been made to official waiting list figures at any of the trusts.

lpaul. smith@emap. com Trusts under review The Department of Health reviewed 13 trusts on the basis of criteria set by the National Audit Office.These were trusts where more than 10 per cent of the total waiting list had been suspended or 2 per cent of patients were waiting more than 12 months. In the case of the 12 listed below, no inappropriate adjustments to waiting lists were found: Epsom and St Helier trust; Isle of Wight Healthcare trust; Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre trust; Countess of Chester Hospital trust; Dartford and Gravesham trust; Good Hope Hospital trust; Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals trust; Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh trust; Wirral Hospital trust; West Suffolk Hospitals trust; Royal Devon and Exeter Healthcare trust; Winchester and Eastleigh Healthcare trust.