STAFF admitted Worcestershire patients to a "virtual ward" in Redditch's Alexandra Hospital to avoid breaching the four-hour A&E target, a whistleblower has claimed.

Patients were kept in A&E but recorded as being admitted to a ward that did not exist.

An investigation regarding the claims, carried out by Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust, found that breaches of the target may have been under-reported at Alexandra Hospital, in Redditch.

A report by the Health Service Journal found that Worcestershire Acute Hospitals has not hit the four-hour target since at least the beginning of 2013.

The report also found some patients whose recorded admission time did not match the time they were actually moved.

In a statement to the HSJ, the trust said investigations found cases of "poor processes and recording" but no evidence of any deliberate attempts by staff to "defraud or game the system".

A former staff member who worked in the trust's A&E department said the virtual EDU (Emergency Department Unit) was nicknamed a "breach avoidance unit".

They also said staff felt under pressure from managers to "falsify records for the four-hour target", and nurses did not want trust managers "harassing" them over four-hour breaches.

A trust spokesman said the trust did not recognise these claims and refuted them.

Trust chairman Caragh Merrick said: "We can confirm that these alleged practices are not happening today and that previous investigations show that 'virtual EDU' was a language issue rather than a policy initiative.

"Since joining the trust in September, I have regularly acknowledged that we need to change some aspects of the way we operate and also the way we engage and communicate with patients, public and stakeholders.

"We are a very challenged trust and our performance against a number of targets and indicators hasn't been, and isn't, good enough.

"As we move forward with a new permanent leadership team a different culture will be introduced, led from the top but being recognised and delivered at all levels within the organisation."