Published: 10/01/2001, Volume 112, No. 5787 Page 7

Confusion has surrounded the decision of the Department of Health to investigate waiting list figures in 13 trusts after it emerged that the trusts had not been informed they were to be investigated and that several trusts had recently had waiting list data approved by District Audit.

The DoH last month asked the Audit Commission to investigate the trusts following a recommendation in a National Audit Office report on waiting-list manipulation. The NAO called for the DoH to look at all trusts in which more than 10 per cent of patients were suspended from their waiting lists and more than 2 per cent of patients had been waiting more than 12 months.

Though there is no suggestion that any of the trusts have altered their lists inappropriately, the NAO said the two criteria were used to indicate where trusts were under pressure. But a statement from Countess of Chester Hospital trust said: 'The Audit Commission have only recently completed a routine audit of our data collection and reporting mechanisms and have indicated they were satisfied with the processes we use to compile waiting-list statistics.'

Trust director of service development Carole Spencer told HSJ that the trust was 'surprised' to be included on the list and that the waiting-list target played a 'key role' in the three-star status conferred on it earlier this year by the Department of Health.

Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre trust chief executive Ed Macalister-Smith said: 'We have already audited our suspended list, and we do not believe there is anybody who is inappropriately suspended. I am entirely confident there is no inappropriate manipulation of waiting lists.'

A Good Hope Hospital trust spokesperson said the trust had not been informed it was to be investigated and was surprised to be included on the NAO's list. He said the trust had recently been commended on the work it was doing on waits over 12 months.

West Suffolk Hospitals acting chief executive Amanda Skull said:

'I was really surprised we were an outlier - we had only just had a light-touch review by the Audit Commission, and one of the things they looked at was a sample of the patients on the suspended list. They gave us a clean bill of health.'

In addition to closely checking the data of the 13 trusts, the Audit Commission will also be carrying out spot-checks on all trusts in England. The Audit Commission said it was likely that District Audit would already have the necessary data available to it, and the emphasis would be on checking that the quality of the data was acceptable.

NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp is due to give evidence on the NAO's findings to the public accounts committee on Monday.

lThe auditor general for Scotland is to carry out a review of the management of waiting lists in Scottish trusts after first minister Jack McConnell ordered Scottish NHS chief executive Trevor Jones to request the review.