Crooks fleece the NHS out of £1.14billion a year – with £300million lost on dodgy contracts alone.
Scams including phoney prescriptions and GPs claiming for dead patients and non-existent services cost £3.2million a day, according to estimates from the NHS Counter Fraud Authority.
That could pay for 45,600 junior doctors, 45,770 nurses or 118,000 hip replacements. Now the watchdog has warned fraudsters were looking to cash in on the £6.6billion emergency Covid-19 fund.
The CFA’s Strategic Intelligence Assessment states: “With additional funding, new fraud threats and vulnerabilities emerged.”
Figures seen by the Sunday Mirror show nearly 5,000 allegations of fraud were made in just 12 months.
Sue Frith, outgoing chief executive of the CFA, stressed NHS staff taking advantage of the service were a minority.
But she blasted: “NHS fraud affects all of us. It is a selfish and shocking act that criminals steal resources from our NHS.”
The Strategic Intelligence Assessment gauges exposure to fraud in key areas of the NHS. Estimates claim dental scams cost £61.3million each year, while GP surgery cons run up a £93.8million bill.
Pharmacies are said to be vulnerable to £117million of fraud, while payroll cons by staff amount to £26.07million.
Procurement fraud – contract fiddles by suppliers and NHS staff – cost £244million a year while £56.4million is down to cheating agency workers.
Watchdogs say patients claiming for medicines, optical vouchers and dental treatment they haven’t had costs the NHS £267.7million.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “People will be appalled at how much has been wasted.”
Image:Adam Gerrard / Sunday Mirror)
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But some have criticised flawed accounting systems and the fact the figures are based on projected losses.
Shawn Charlwood, of the British Dental Association, said many practitioners were falling foul of “chaotic” rules around claiming back payments.
He said: “Our broken NHS contract has left numerous grey areas, so no two dentists are likely to give you the same answer on how to claim.”
And the BMA’s Dr Richard Vautrey said: “It’s concerning that the figures are a forecast of risk, rather than a firm indication of money lost to fraud. However, that doesn’t detract from the fact we do not condone actions which deliberately defraud the NHS.
“But extrapolating conclusions in the way this report has done risks unfairly demonising the vast majority of hardworking GPs and staff who do an honest job caring for patients – as we have seen so clearly through their immense efforts during the pandemic.”
Case study: The cheating tech boss
Tech boss Barry Stannard was jailed for more than five years after conning the NHS of more than £800,000.
He set up two firms to siphon off the cash between 2012-19.
But Stannard, 53, was rumbled after hundreds of invoices for fake work were found.
They were all for modest sums so Stannard did not have to get them signed off at Mid Essex NHS Trust, Colchester. He also charged £132,000 VAT but never paid it to the taxman.
He admitted fraud and cheating the public revenue. Meanwhile, in April, a former consultant on £2,000 a day admitted defrauding £1.4million from the NHS and a string of firms, some providing health services.
Manchester-based chartered accountant Stephen Day, 53, was jailed for 11 years.
Comment: Counter Fraud chief Sue Frith
I've been Chief Executive Officer of the NHS Counter Fraud Authority since its launch in November 2017.
I have seen fraud change and have aligned the NHSCFA’s purpose to acknowledge the evolving and unpredictable world of economic crime. Every year the NHSCFA estimates the amount the NHS is made vulnerable to by fraud and other economic crime.
While the figure has always been in excess of £1billion, it has reduced over the years by approximately £85million.
Our mission is to lead the fight against fraud, bribery and corruption affecting the NHS in England.
I have seen how the landscape of fraud has changed, with the pandemic creating new risks, with fraudsters exploiting the NHS’ vulnerabilities to line their own pockets.