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Doctors accused of fixing death rates: Staff at Bolton NHS Trust accused of reclassifying cause of death to cover up poor care
Cause of death noted as serious illness when it was actually poor care69 of 150 cases wrongly coded as septicaemia, investigation findsMounting evidence that UK hospitals altered figures to cover up neglect
Sophie Borland Health Reporter
01:58 GMT, 7 March 2013
08:02 GMT, 7 March 2013
Doctors are suspected of altering figures to mask the numbers of patients dying needlessly in hospital.
An investigation found that medical staff at Bolton NHS Trust were routinely ‘reclassifying’ the cause of death on patients’ records.
It is feared staff noted that the deaths were caused by serious, incurable illnesses when in fact they were the result of poor care.
Investigation: Medical staff at Royal Bolton Hospital reclassified cause of death records to cover up neglect
There is now mounting evidence that dozens of hospitals have been routinely altering their death rate figures to cover up neglect.
Last week, a whistleblower from Royal Wolverhampton Hospital told the Mail that she had been hired to break ‘every rule in the book’ to lower its shocking figures.
Other trusts, including Medway in Kent, George Eliot in Warwickshire and Walsall in the West Midlands are also suspected of using various tactics to lower their rates.
Experts suspect that some trusts, including Medway, have been paying a private firm called CHKS to lower death rates.
The investigation at Bolton was ordered last week by mortality experts Dr Foster and the local primary care organisation after evidence emerged of a possible cover-up.
Until recently, the trust had one of the worst death rates, with more than 2,000 patients estimated to have died needlessly since 2001. But in 2011, the rates fell by 10 per cent and the hospital was named as one of the most improved in the country.
The investigation found that doctors wrongly recorded deaths as caused by septicaemia, a very dangerous form of blood poisoning. There are concerns that this was done to lower the hospital’s mortality rate.
Deaths from septicaemia have less weight in calculating the death rate as preventable deaths from hip fractures and infections and the investigation found that 69 out of 150 cases had been wrongly coded by doctors as septicaemia or sepsis, a related condition.
Exposed: Last week a whistleblower at Royal Wolverhampton Hospital said she was hired to break 'every rule in the book' to lower shocking figures
Last night, the local NHS body, Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group, ordered an independent panel led by senior doctors and managers to investigate the extent to which the trust had been altering death rates. Dr Jackie Bene, the hospital’s chief executive, was last week forced ‘aside’ and it is not known if she will return.
Dr Wirin Bhatiani, of Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group, said: ‘This report looked at the quality of the coding process; we now need medical input to understand how and why this happened, and to understand if the coding was clinically appropriate. We have no evidence that clinical care of patients has been compromised.’
Last week, former NHS worker Sandra Haynes Kirkbright said she was hired by Wolverhampton Hospitals Trust in 2011 to ‘fix’ its figures, alleging managers offered to double her salary to 54,000 to break ‘every rule in the book’. The trust has strongly denied her accusations and claimed its death rate was properly audited.