A WATCHDOG has launched an investigation into claims staff at Colchester General Hospital deliberately changed records of cancer patients.
The Care Quality Commission visited the hospital in August and September following allegations records of treatment and appointment dates had been deliberately changed and were not accurate on the national cancer waiting time system.
It was alleged patients may have been harmed as a result.
Colchester Hospital Trust's cancer services have now been placed in special measures.
The CQC looked at the records of 61 patients who were being investigated or treated for Cancer and subsequently told the Trust to contact 30 of those patients and/or their families to discuss the treatment they had received.
The GPs of each of these patients have also been verbally informed by the Trust that it was reviewing their care and treatment.
In a statement, the North East Essex clinical commissioning group said it was urgently reviewing services with the medical director of the East of England Cancer Network, site visits by the national Cancer Intensive Support Team and weekly review of all patients on the waiting list.
Further expert review of the Cancer Services is being undertaken with the support of NHS England.
A hotline - 0800 028 2026 - has been set up for anyone affected.
Dr Sean MacDonnell, Medical Director of Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, said: “On behalf of the Trust, I apologise to the patients, relatives and carers who we have let down. We are very sorry for the worry, distress and concerns that have been raised by the publication of the CQC report into our cancer services.
“Our priority is to focus on the safety and welfare of all cancer patients.
“We urge all patients currently using our cancer services to keep their appointments. The issues in the CQC report are primarily about delays to treatment and it is vitally important that patients continue with their treatment.
“Both myself and staff throughout the Trust are shocked and dismayed by the concerns raised in the CQC report.
"Patients and the public can be reassured that we are taking the findings extremely seriously and are determined to get to the bottom of the issues and sort them out.
“The CQC has given the Trust the names of 30 patients about who they have identified concerns. We have already contacted them or their families to offer face-to-face meetings because we want to ensure these individuals are reviewed swiftly to ensure their safety and welfare. We will offer them all the support that they need at this difficult time.
“It is also extremely disheartening for us to learn that it appears from the CQC inspection report that some inappropriate changes were made to cancer waiting time data.
“It is essential that patients and staff can trust all of our employees to do the right thing. It seems that this has not always been the case.
“If there is any evidence that any of our staff have inappropriately adjusted and reported cancer figures, the Trust will take the strongest possible action against them. Equally, the Trust will take action against any employee involved in bullying, harassment or coercion of its staff by other staff, if this appears to have happened in relation to changes made to data."
The CQC report found:
- In 22 out of the 61 cases reviewed, patients were at risk or experienced delays in their care which could have had a negative impact.
- In those 22 cases the treatment dates recorded on the system had been changed.
- Concerns relating to patient care have been referred to Essex Police.
Royal College of Nursing regional director Karen Webb said: "The Care Quality Commission report concerning Colchester Hospital makes for very alarming reading and sadly does chime with concerns we have voiced on behalf of nurses about the culture at the trust in the last couple of years.
"One of our major concerns has been a very defensive culture among senior managers at the trust, a real lack of openness, and we have had serious concerns about a bullying culture.
"It is right that the hospital is placed in special measures and support offered to help them turn things around for the benefit of patient care and a safe working environment for staff providing that care."
Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell described the CQC report as "devastating".
He said: "What happened and the apparent cover-up are of the utmost seriousness – let me make this clear, there can be no justification under any circumstances.
“That there appear to be serious failings in day-to-day systems and management procedures in that part of the Hospital Trust treating cancer patients, with deeply worrying indications of bullying to falsify records, then questions have to be asked about line-management which takes us right to the heart of the organisation.
“The buck has to stop somewhere.”
A police spokesman said: “Essex Police has been contacted by the Care Quality Commission and is currently reviewing the information it has provided to establish whether a criminal investigation is necessary.”
Dr Gordon Coutts, chief executive Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust, said anyone found to have been acting inappropriately or unprofessionally would face a disciplinary process.
He said: “Some individuals don’t get it. From the evidence presented, they have not behaved in an appropriate manner."
Adam Cayley, regional director for Monitor, which regulates health trusts, said: "Monitor has been working closely with the CQC over its concerns in relation to this trust, and we have identified risks in the way that the trust is run.
"We have therefore opened a formal investigation into whether it has breached the conditions of its licence, and we will consider putting the trust into special measures as part of any regulatory action we may take to protect its patients.
"We have also asked the trust to implement a look-back review to establish whether there is a risk that other patients did not receive treatment in accordance with national standards in recent years."
Harwich & North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin said: “This investigation has uncovered what can only be described as inexcusable.
"There are lots of questions. Why did the recent Keogh investigation not pick this up?
"The most urgent thing is to contact the patients whose treatment may have been affected - and the hospital is doing that.
" But the other vital thing is that the system, and the people in it, learn the lessons of this failure.
"The Chief Executive, Dr Coutts, has accepted responsibility, and that is an important first step.
"The key lesson is the same as Mid Staffs. We have to defeat the culture of secrecy and the habit of hiding of problems like this within the NHS.
"The new NHS must be about the need for openness, honesty and transparency within the NHS. Gordon Coutts is one of the few NHS managers I have met who really understands all this.
"He is the best leader our hospital has had since I have been an MP, so I have every confidence that he is the right person to continue leading the necessary changes at Colchester Hospital.”
Patients and relatives have spoken of the treatment they have received at Colchester's hospitals.
Diane Bailey, 49, was so angered by the care her husband Simon, who had terminal cancer, received at Colchester General Hospital she refused to let him stay in hospital care.
She said: “I’m not surprised by this report. It confirms what I thought.
“If I ever got cancer myself, I would keep myself at home – there is no way I would go to that hospital.”
But mum-of-two Laura Stonehouse, 24, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in April and began intensive treatment in June, described her treatment at the hospital as “flawless”.
She added: “I’m in shock. My own treatment has been fantastic.
“Any fear I had about not surviving it completely disappeared during my treatment.
“I would definitely say if you were in my situation and dealt with the same people, you will be absolutely fine.”
Witham MP Priti Patel said: "This is a devastating report which will cause much concern among patients who may have been affected and staffs.
"Colchester Hospital treats a large number of my constituents and the culture of failure and cover up in these cases is truly shocking.
"There can be no justification for what has happened and the Hospital now needs to work with the CQC and others to raise their standards and prevent this from happening again.
"Further investigations must be allowed to take place in a transparent way and those responsible should be held to account.
"I would encourage any patient who thinks they've been affected to come forward."
Union Unison states their members were the whistleblowers who approached the Care Quality Commission.
Head of health Christina McAnea claimed the staff had emailed senior management and chief executive Dr Gordon Coutts, but were allegedly ignored.
She said: “We cannot allow any patients, particularly those suffering from a life threatening illness like cancer, to be treated so appallingly.
"We owe it to them, to the relatives of those who have died, and to staff, to make sure there is a very full and thorough investigation into the sequence of events at Colchester Hospital.
“Our members took a brave step by reporting to the CQC that they were being bullied and harassed by senior managers to falsify records relating to cancer patients.
"They raised their concerns repeatedly and in e-mails to senior managers, right up to the chief executive, but they were ignored.
“The NHS needs to promote an honest and open culture. Unison has been encouraging and training members to blow the whistle on any practice that might endanger patients or interfere with their treatment.
"I am pleased that our members in Colchester did just that.”