Colchester Hospital University NHS Trust could be facing a criminal investigation and being placed into special measures after it emerged that data on cancer waiting times was falsified in order to meet government targets.
An inspection by the Care Quality Commission has revealed that a number of cancer patients may have suffered "undue delays" in receiving treatment, and uncovered inaccuracies with waiting time data relating to cancer treatment.
Of the 61 care records examined, 22 showed that people had been placed at risk of receiving care that was unsafe or not effective, due to delays in receiving appointments or treatment.
In some cases identified by the CQC, patients did not get treatment within the required 62 days, and in three cases delays overshot 100 days, which could have had a significant impact on outcomes.
Shockingly, the watchdog said some hospital staff have reported they were pressured to alter data to make it to make it seem patients were receiving cancer treatment in line with national guidelines.
And even though an internal investigation last year identified these concerns, "the trust failed to investigate the allegations thoroughly or follow up with the patients who were affected," the CQC said.
"Concerns raised by staff in relation to changes made to people’s cancer pathways were not appropriately managed or investigated by senior staff of the Trust, which is why I am now recommending that this trust should be placed in special measures," said Professor Sir Mike Richards, Chief Inspector of Hospitals.
The Trust has written to 30 patients, or their families where patients have died, offering to review their treatment.
Monitor says it has also opened a formal investigation into whether the Trust has breached the conditions of its licence.
Gordon Coutts, Chief Executive of the Trust, said he is "very concerned" at the CQC's findings, but added "we want to reassure patients and the wider public that we have already taken action in response to the findings of the report and we will continue to take action to address all of the concerns raised by the CQC".
Nevertheless, this latest in a growing line of scandals will not help the drive to rebuild public confidence that the NHS' key priority is quality patient care, and again highlights the lack of openess and transparency that is behind health service failings.