Record keeping in the public hospitals of the state of Victoria, Australia has been dubbed as fundamentally flawed and open to abuse.
In his report tabled in State Parliament tosday, Auditor-General Des Pearson said the problem was widespread and hospital figures could not be relied on as an accurate measure of performance.
AdvertisementThe Latrobe Regional Hospital in Gippsland has been reprimanded for deliberately falsifying emergency figures, while three metropolitan hospitals were found to have kept sloppy and inaccurate data.
In damage control, Health Minister Daniel Andrews immediately announced an across-the-board audit of elective surgery waiting lists.
A director of data integrity will be appointed to co-ordinate the audit and finish a review of all emergency department data.
The clampdown comes after the Royal Women's Hospital admitted this week to deliberately manipulating figures to make waiting lists appear shorter and qualify for bonus payments.
The auditor-general's report found Latrobe hospital falsified emergency department waiting times to meet performance indicators.
Nurse unit managers retrospectively altered data to cut patient stays below the eight-hour benchmark and ward clerks "admitted" patients to a bed up to three hours before they were transferred.
The report said the fudging was facilitated by poor security controls and a lack of computer auditing.
The hospital has since appointed a new executive team and chief executive Peter Craighead said the errors were limited to a small number of cases.
"This is an administrative matter ... not one single person was to blame."
The Royal Melbourne, Royal Children's and Dandenong Hospitals were guilty of inappropriately shifting patients off waiting lists to "not ready for care".
"... it was most concerning that the audit found fundamental flaws both with data accuracy and the rigour of data capture processes," Mr Pearson said in the report.
"Unfortunately it is one of the findings of this audit that the reliability of access performance data by public hospitals cannot be assured."
The Opposition accused the health minister of a cover-up and called for his resignation.
"What this report also makes clear is that the minister has been derelict in his responsibilities ... and he should go," Opposition leader Ted Baillieu said.
Mr Andrews said his response was appropriate and he was barred from divulging the findings of the auditor-general any earlier.
He admitted the findings called all hospital's figures into question.
"Clearly there are doubts and I want to make sure that we restore the public's confidence," he said.
"I've announced these audits today, I've announced someone to be a senior official to drive that process and I think that's the best way to go forward."
Australian Medical Association Victorian president Doug Travis said the auditor-general's findings were only the tip of the iceberg, AAP reported.
Tuesday minister Andrews battled his way through a torrid round of interviews and a hostile parliamentary question time after revelations that the Royal Women's Hospital had been doctoring its waiting lists for almost a decade.
Opposition frontbenchers raised recent claims from the Australian Medical Association and veteran doctor Peter Lazzari about hospital data fraud.
The AMA said last month "hospital data are subject to manipulation" such as "the use of phantom wards or ghost admissions ... reclassification of elective surgical waiting list patients, using inconsistent definitions of time to treatment, or simply falsifying data".