Waiting List Too Long? Destroy the Records

Patrick Howley of the Daily Caller reports that Department of Veterans Affairs employees destroyed medical files in a “systematic attempt to eliminate backlogged veteran medical exam requests.” Oliver Mitchell, a former patient services assistant in the VA Greater Los Angeles Medical Center said that the center got about 3,000 requests a month for exams but only had the resources to do 800. Because waiting lists counted against a hospital’s efficiency report, officials began discussing how to make their waiting list look better by destroying records.

In Britain’s National Health Service, where the government set surgical waiting list targets of 18 months, hospitals have been massaging waiting list data for years. In 2001, the National Audit Office reported on some of the techniques used. These included deleting the records of patients who had hit the 18 month limit, altering patient records to show false admission dates, not adding outpatients to the list, unofficially adding a waiting list to get on the official waiting list, offering surgery only on dates when it was known that patients would be on vacation, and offering non-existent surgery dates at very short notice knowing that a patient would refuse.

The 2001 study found that an estimated 6,000 patients were affected. The scandal came to light only as a result of patient complaints because many people were denied access to needed care.

None of the auditors’ suggestions for better performance suggested increasing surgical capacity or letting prices equilibrate supply and demand. Instead, the auditors suggested that “The Department of Health should seek assurances from the Chief Executive of each NHS trust that there have been no inappropriate adjustments to waiting lists.”

Comments (16)

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  1. Grant F says:

    I rather have long waiting lists that reflect actual conditions, than to adjust the list to make it look better. Lying to the population doesn’t make the problem go away.

    • Thomas says:

      But they face a great deal of criticism for having long waiting lists. This was a terrible knee-jerk reaction from the VA.

  2. Wendy O says:

    It seems that bureaucrats forget that care is more important than the statistics. If they are destroying the data to show better numbers, they are harming the system and the patients. The “solution” they came up with is much worse than the problem.

  3. Matthew says:

    “some patients were “waiting six to nine months for an exam” and VA “didn’t know how to address the issue,”

    Well you shouldn’t respond by deleting them off the waiting list.

  4. Roman R says:

    Bureaucrats are setting unrealistic expectations which create issues and auditors are expected to provide with workable solutions. No wonder the system is broken. How can we expect something to work if those who know are not involved in the decision making process?

    • James says:

      This is relevant not only in this situation, but perhaps every other work situation. Most likely the ones setting standards are not the ones involved.

  5. Andrew says:

    “to cancel exam requests and destroy veterans’ medical files so that no record of the exam requests would exist, thus reducing the backlog.”


  6. Peter A says:

    …and like this the VA was added to the long list of governmental departments that are failing to provide the service they were created to provide…

  7. Walter says:

    It is our service people that always get the short end of the stick.

  8. Johan B says:

    An additional proof of the problems of having a big government that tries to intervene in every aspect of society. Without government intervention the wait wouldn’t be different but at least the numbers wouldn’t be altered.

  9. Gabriel P says:

    VA’s mission: “’To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.” Something tells me that the department is doing wrong. I think that shredding waitlists list to report better numbers is not helping America’s veterans.

  10. Perry says:

    Makes you wonder if they’re going to start shredding patients next.

  11. Von K. says:

    “Because waiting lists counted against a hospital’s efficiency report, officials began discussing how to make their waiting list look better by destroying records.” They should find the reason for long waiting list.

  12. John R. Graham says:

    It reminds me of stories from Britain’s National Health Service about the shortage of hospital beds. When the media glommed onto the story, the administrators re-defined the word “bed” to include any item upon which a person can lie horizontal.

    So, patients lying on gurneys and (eventually) even tables in the hall were counted has having been admitted to beds.