£7 Million in NHS Telecoms Contracts Investigated by NHS Fraud Squad

Each NHS trust in England and local health board in Wales has a Local Counter Fraud Specialist (LCFS) assigned to it. The counter fraud service, NHS Protect, is an independent division of the NHS Business Services Authority and is responsible for policy and operational matters relating to the prevention, detection and investigation of fraud and corruption. Like anywhere else in governments all over the world, corruption does exist, and it’s a serious issue in the NHS: it’s a huge body, so the opportunities for fraud are vast and varied. Types of fraud investigated and penalised cover anything from people who falsely claim prescription charges, to staff claiming for shifts they have not done, to multi-million pound claims against drug companies for alleged price fixing.

The service aims not only to identify and investigate fraud, but advertise it and raise awareness to create an anti-fraud culture within the NHS. Using the intelligence they gain, LCFSs can make recommendations to health bodies to help them take preventive measures. Reducing fraud against the NHS to a minimum, and restoring money defrauded, means more valuable resource and public money can be put back where it belongs, into providing a better service for patients.

Just last week, The Daily Record reported that a team including investigators from NHS Scotland Counter Fraud Services raided the headquarters of Oricom, an Ayrshire-based telecommunications services supplier. The firm had been under suspicion for a while, since it appeared to have won rather a lot of NHS contracts, in fact, about £7 million worth of work with health boards in Scotland. The investigation centres on phone maintenance deals between Oricom and communications heads at NHS Lothian and NHS Lanarkshire. One can only assume that there are suspicions of breaches of conduct during the tendering processes, as the contracts span a number of years.

Police have been talking to the head of IT Infrastructure at Lanarkshire, the Oricom MD, a director and further staff, but the Head of Telecoms at NHS Lothian apparently resigned last year -- it is thought that the allegations are quite widespread, and may extend to other health boards.

In September the BBC reported that the NHS could be losing up to £5.7 billion a year to fraud from its £100 billion budget. The report which concluded this was carried out by the former NHS anti-fraud boss, it highlighted the extent of fraud in the NHS and pinpointed the main areas to be affected, with procurement in a prominent position, along with prescriptions, registration of patients and payroll.

The report claimed fraud to be one of the "great unreduced healthcare costs.” It went on to say that: "There is a vast, honest majority who find fraud against the NHS to be completely unacceptable. However, there is also a dishonest minority who can cause significant financial damage. The best way of stopping this is not to wait for fraud to happen and then act after losses have been incurred, but to proactively deter and prevent them. Fraud is a cost to be measured, managed and minimised like any other." The department for health, however, claimed the figure was “speculative.”

Questions on the accuracy of the figure do not deter from the fact that the number of fraud cases has been on the rise, and even if the majority of them are 'small' they all add to money that should be in the public purse and not the wallets of crooked individuals or firms. So to mitigate the risks of fraud, procurement executives in the NHS (and indeed everywhere) need to make sure processes in our area are as watertight as possible.  You can never stop fraud altogether; but sensible precautions can make it a whole lot harder to execute.

One figure that is not speculative and rather encouraging to finish on: 96 percent of NHS counter fraud prosecutions to date have been successful.

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