Wednesday, September 1, 1999 Published at 08:33 GMT 09:33 UK
Doubts raised over hospital waiting lists
The hospital is investigating the allegations
A claim that patients were dropped from a hospital waiting list in order to meet government targets is to be the subject of an investigation.
The patients ended up waiting more than the 18 months which the government has ruled should be the absolute maximum for any patient. Thirty-three of the patients are still waiting for treatment.
The Department of Health has confirmed that a manager at the hospital is being investigated. In a separate development, consultant Dimitri Kaltsas has been suspended for disciplinary reasons "following concerns over patient care".
Dr Evan Harris, Lib Dem health spokesman, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This is a direct consequence of unacceptable pressure on the NHS."
Heart surgery 'delayed'
He said waiting list manipulation was bound to happen as financial pressure was put on hospitals to cut lists.
"The Government has suspended an NHS manager for allegedly dropping 84 people off the waiting list while during their time in office they have dropped 190,000 off the beginning of the list," he said.
Shadow health minister Philip Hammond accused Health Secretary Frank Dobson of "abject failure", suggesting that the practice uncovered in Redbridge may have been repeated elsewhere.
Measures taken to protect patients
Stuart Bain, Chief Executive of Redbridge Health Care Trust, said: "As soon as this problem came to light, we moved swiftly to rectify the situation and to ensure that patients were brought in for treatment as soon as possible.
"Measures have now been taken to ensure this problem cannot happen again."
The government has pledged to reduce waiting lists to 100,000 below the level they inherited from the Tories by the next election.
Hospitals have been set tough targets to honour the pledge, and doctors and opposition parties have repeatedly claimed that the initiative has distorted clinical priorities and put unsustainable pressure on surgeons.
Health minister John Denham welcomed the fact that the hospital had taken prompt action.
He said: "The government's policy on 18-month waiting is absolutely clear. Nobody should wait more than 18 months for treatment and any alleged manipulation of the figures to try to get round this pledge will be investigated and dealt with.
"Any case involving manipulation of the figures will not be tolerated."
He said: "We have investigated each and every smear that has been publicly made against staff and in each and every case so far, the smear has turned out to be untrue and we have said so. That's because we are tough on smears on NHS staff."
The Department of Health said that the 33 patients still waiting were all under the suspended consultant, but not all the 84 were in his charge.