NHS England is failing to collect “consistent, complete and accurate” waiting times figures from trusts, according to an influential committee of MPs.
The Public Accounts Committee said the key performance measure was subject to missing and incorrect data.
Financial sanctions for breaches of waiting time targets were also incorrectly applied and many patients were unaware of their right to be treated within 18 weeks.
Committee chair Margaret Hodge MP said: “Public confidence in the success hospital trusts have had in meeting the 18-week waiting time target is inevitably undermined by errors in trusts’ recording of waiting time information.”
She added that trusts were struggling with a “hotchpotch” of IT and paper-based systems that are not easily pulled together. This made is difficult for organisations to track and collate appropriate waiting time data.
The committee’s report suggests that the Department of Health and its agencies- such as NHS England and Monitor- should work with trusts to agree clear responsibilities and timelines to ensure they could reliably keep tabs on their data.
NHS England should show how it intends to build up confidence in the use of the e-Referrals system, which is due to replace the under-used Choose and Book system.
A spokesman for the Trust Development Authority said: “Accurate data is hugely important for NHS Trusts. This year we have written to all NHS Trusts to outline our expectations for how their data should be audited.”
A spokesman for NHS England said: “The NHS has made hugely significant progress for patients since the introduction of the 18-week referral-to-treatment standard.
“It is clearly critical that we measure progress using the most accurate data that we can.”