Swedish clinics shorten queues by cheating
Over two years ago the Swedish government launched a national effort to reduce the time that people spend waiting for medical help, but some medical centres are cooking the books, according to a new report.
The Swedish "care guarantee" is supposed to make sure that no one has to suffer a long wait, needing medical help.
It was brought in 2010 and says that everyone should get an appointment with a nurse, on the same day they contact a clinic, that they should not have to wait longer than a week to get to see a doctor, and if they need to see a specialist - they shouldn't have to wait any longer than three months.
And there's a carrot: a cash reward of almost US$ 140 million (SEK 1 billion) shared between county councils that meet the targets.
This whole system has been closely examined in a report by the main health agency - the National Board of Health and Welfare.
Marianne Hanning, one of the authors of the report, says that queues have got shorter, but she also admits that this is partly because the figures are being manipulated.
She says that the new measures - the billion-kronor reward pot and the care guarantee - are all about how long new patients have to wait. And that shorter queues for people with a new health problem have been achieved partly by making those returning for further treatment wait longer.
And Swedish Radio's Kaliber programme reports that the efforts to gain a piece of the reward pot go even further than this.
The waiting times are reported twice a year - they're supposed to give a snapshot of the situation at a health centre. But medical staff that Kaliber talked to says that these days are often planned, to give a falsely good picture.
Jonas Sjögreen, who until recently worked as a doctor in Västerås, says that there are standard tricks. Like cancelling all training for the day, or even cancelling already-booked appointments to make way for new patients.
Swedish Radio has talked to other doctors who spoke of other cheats - like only seeing a certain quota of patients, or not even writing down patients waiting for treatment as being on the waiting list at all.
If widespread, then this kind of cooking of the books makes the figures for shorter queue times unreliable.