Don't stop the clock: the manipulation of hospital waiting lists

Buchanan, David A. and Storey, John (2010). Don't stop the clock: the manipulation of hospital waiting lists. Journal of Health Organization and Management, 24(4) pp. 343–360.



Purpose – This paper aims to explore the theoretical and practical management implications of a case involving the falsification of hospital patient waiting lists for elective orthopaedic surgery.

Design/methodology/approach – This case study is based on qualitative schedule-structured interviews with 20 senior hospital staff (managerial and clinical), including the head of the investigation team, downloads from the hospital website, and internal hospital documentation. Those data were used to construct an event narrative exploring the underlying causes and implications of the incident.

Findings – The blame for misconduct pointed at three surgeons, a senior manager, a general manager, an assistant general manager, one administrative staff member, and several organizational factors. In addition to censuring some of those involved, an investigation recommended changes to training and working practices, policies and procedures, governance arrangements, and organization culture, and led to an external evaluation of the hospital board. However, one year later, another similar incident occurred.

Research limitations/implications – This is a single case, and events are viewed through a management lens, the individuals concerned being protected by research ethics considerations.

Practical implications – By detailing the sequence of events, surrounding conditions, and the reactions of multiple players, this analysis reveals typified responses to incidents of this kind, and the limitations inherent in post-event investigations. If the benefits derived from national targets are to be realized in a manner which commands support from staff at all levels, then greater attention should be paid by managers and regulators to issues of transparency, responsiveness, and honesty. As core dimensions of good governance, managers must be accountable for helping to meet targets, and also for tracking how targets are met, ensuring that resources are made available, and that problematic issues raised are promptly and effectively addressed.

Originality/value – Studies of organizational misbehaviour are rare in healthcare where the focus often lies with patient deaths and injuries arising from system failures and gross individual misconduct. The analysis in this case explores the organizational conditions that contribute to such incidents.

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