Published: 31/10/2002, Volume II2, No. 5829 Page 7

An investigation into waiting-list fiddling is under way at a trust where the finance director was suspended 'in connection with information that was submitted' to an earlier Audit Commission probe.

Greater Manchester strategic health authority has announced an external investigation into waiting-list data at one-star South Manchester University Hospitals trust, following a 'spot check' of waiting-list information by the Audit Commission.

Trust chief executive Peter Morris said the district audit team carrying out the spot check of data from April 2000 to March 2002 had reported in September 'that there was evidence of deliberate misreporting of inpatient waiting times and waiting-list information'.

Mr Morris, who did not join the trust until June, said: 'That misrepresentation was to the [trust] board, the health authority and the Department of Health.'

He added: 'In the course of the investigation, I took action to suspend the finance director in connection with information that was submitted to the audit team ahead of a site visit.'

Finance director Andrew Whitley had subsequently resigned 'and I understand intends to take retirement', Mr Morris said.

Both the audit team and the SHA investigation, to be headed by Walsall Hospitals trust chief executive John Rostill, are expected to report in November.

Mr Morris said: 'I've no doubt the inquiry will reveal significant weaknesses.' But he added: 'As a result, we will be able to put in place an improvement programme. It will be a top priority to deal with this quickly and appropriately... and give patients and the public confidence [in the trust's systems].'

SHA chief executive Neil Goodwin said: 'The public needs to be assured that the information about its health services is accurate.

The independent inquiry will look at how this came about, ensure that systems are in place to avoid a repeat occurrence and make recommendations on any further action that needs to be taken.'

In a statement, the SHA said the inquiry would also look at 'the involvement and actions' of individuals involved in the preparation and presentation of waiting-list data, comment on 'the actions and responsibilities of senior management and the board' and 'determine whether other, non-waiting list performance-management data is being reported accurately internally and externally'.

Former trust chief executive Jane Herbert, who left to become chief executive of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire SHA in April, did not wish to comment until the investigation results had come through.