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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 March, 2003, 14:50 GMT
A&E survey 'fiddle' claims
The audit happens next week
The audit happens next week
Hospitals are racing to meet a target on waiting times in casualty units by hiring staff just for the week of an official audit, it is claimed.

The government wants 90% of patients entering A&E units to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.

However, as the deadline approaches, many hospitals are believed to be nowhere near meeting that deadline.

If there is simply a quick fix for one week it would be a disaster
Mr John Heyworth, British Association of Accident and Emergency Medicine
The Department of Health says that four out of five A&E units are already meeting the target.

However, analysis by the Health Service Journal suggested that just one in five hospitals were achieving it in December.

And now there appears to be a scramble by managers to meet the target during a week-long audit next week - by whatever means.

Improved staffing

Reports in "BMA News" suggest that some are paying well over the odds to bring in temporary staff to "cover the cracks" during the audit.

Existing staff are also being offered bonuses to work double shifts during the week, it is reported.

Mr John Heyworth, President of the British Association of Accident and Emergency Medicine (BAEM) told BBC News Online: "The target has become the most important thing in some cases.

"Little progress has been made towards the target - and now money is no object.

"I would hope that these levels of recruitment could be sustained after next week - if there is simply a quick fix for one week it would be a disaster."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that it was a matter for hospitals how they "managed performance".

She said there had been steady improvment in A&E waiting times over the past few months.

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