A high-level investigation has been launched into Lancashire Teaching Hospitals to find out why some patients are waiting too long for treatment.
The hospital trust has also come under fire for a higher than expected number of cases of a hospital infection.
Health watchdog Monitor has announced the probe into the trust, which runs the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals, following failures to see some patients within 18 weeks of them being referred to hospital.
The trust has failed to achieve the target for the third consecutive quarter and Monitor will be examining the reasons behind the failure to meet the target since April.
The health services regulator will be looking at whether the trust has breached its licence to provide healthcare services.
It has also been revealed that Lancashire Teaching Hospitals has exceeded the expected number of cases for the hospital infection Clostridium difficile (C Diff).
Robert Davidson, regional director of Monitor, said: “Patients rightly expect the best possible standards of care from their local hospital and if problems are found they will expect action to be taken quickly.
“Patients at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals are waiting too long for some treatments and we want to know why this is happening. We will take further action to ensure things are put right if necessary.”
Hospital chiefs have admitted they have been advised by Monitor that an investigation will be conducted into the trust’s performance on the two issues.
Bosses claim they have found it difficult to meet targets following increasing pressures last winter.
Karen Partington, chief executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We advised Monitor that we would not achieve the 18-week referral to treatment standard for the third consecutive quarter.
“We have also reported that we have exceeded our trajectory for the number of cases of Clostridium difficile infections.
“Last winter our urgent care services experienced intense, growing and unsustainable pressure.
“To help manage this pressure and make sure patients with urgent needs could receive prompt treatment we postponed a number of elective procedures and have since found it challenging to meet the 18-week standard for admitted patients.
“In recent years we have made great progress in significantly reducing hospital acquired infections. Despite this good performance and our continued efforts, we have exceeded what is a very challenging trajectory for the Clostridium difficile infection year to date.
“We are absolutely committed to providing excellent care with compassion and will be working closely with Monitor in the coming weeks to share our recovery plans and make sure we are taking every action possible to deliver timely treatment and reduce hospital acquired infection.”
Tim Ellis, regional organiser for health union Unison, said: “These delays in patients being seen within 18 weeks and the increasing number of cases of C diff are a growing problem across the NHS.
“The NHS is facing year-on-year less money, less staff and more patients.
“As a result, queues, delays and pressure on patient care is inevitable and a huge concern.
“The NHS is beginning to go bust.
“Monitor and the Government should be helping our NHS, not just pointing out the problems they are creating.”
No decision has been taken about whether further regulatory action is required against Lancashire Teaching Hospitals.
An announcement about the outcome of the investigation will be made in due course.