Unions claim more figures have been fiddled at trust

Essex County Standard: Karen Webb Karen Webb

A WHISTLE-BLOWER is claiming Colchester’s hospitals have been altering other data as well as that on the treatment of cancer patients.

The allegations come weeks after the NHS trust which runs Colchester General and Essex County hospitals was taken to task by health watchdogs for changing records of cancer patients.

A Care Quality Commission investigation found managers had bullied junior staff into altering data.

The resulting scandal led the watchdog Monitor to put the hospital into special measures.

Acting on information from whistle-blowers, inspectors checked 61 sets of records and found treatment for 22 patients might have been delayed by fiddled figures.

Now, public service unions say their members are making fresh claims that the scandal reaches well beyond cancer services.

Karen Webb, regional director for the Royal College of Nursing, said her legal department was looking at allegations by one nurse in an unnamed department, who claimed she was recently bullied into changing patients’ records.

Mrs Webb said: “We have told Monitor the member had already made management aware, but no action was taken.

“When she didn’t get any support from her manager, she went to the chief executive with concerns. She went to see him, but nothing happened.

The member then came to us and we directed her statement to our lawyers.”

Mrs Webb said once again, data appeared to have been changed in a way which may have affected the treatment given to patients Previous whistle-blowers also said managers and chief executive Dr Gordon Coutts failed to act on information passed to them by concerned staff. Mrs Webb claimed the trust attitude meant she was not surprised to hear of further allegations.

She added: “Here is a trust which seems to be doing really well, financially, but behind the surface, the board’s fixation with financial targets has come at the expense of its attention to the quality of outcomes for patients and the safety of staff.”

Tim Roberts, regional organiser for the public service union Unison, said his members had reported similar experiences.

He said: “We’ve been approached by members throughout the trust who reported they had observed inappropriate practices arising from management trying to meet targets.”

The trust has launched an independent inquiry into the original allegations.

A trust spokesman said it had not received full details of the RCN whistle- blower's claims.

He added: “We take such claims extremely seriously, but the Royal College of Nursing has still not formally advised us what the details are.

“We regularly work with the college on potential issues, so would appreciate it if Karen Webb could contact us so we can work together on this.”

A spokesman for Monitor would only say if the details were sent to the watchdog, they would be investigated.

Monitor is in the process of appointing a director to bring in improvements at the trust, and is setting up links with a good-performing cancer treatment trust so it can help Colchester improve its practices.

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