Dobson sets up NHS fraud squad

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN 500 specially-qualified "fraudbusters" are to be appointed by the Government in a new crackdown on corruption within the NHS.

Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary, announced yesterday that Britain would be the first country in the world with counter-fraud experts in its health service. Dubbed "The Untouchables" by ministers, the investigators will be charged with rooting out illegality among doctors, opticians, dentists, nurses and administrative staff.

Specialist courses and a new degree in fraud detection have been created by the Department of Health as part of an attempt to reduce the millions of pounds lost every year. Training will begin in September, when staff from all 99 health authorities in England and Wales will be sent to the department's new anti-fraud "centre of excellence" in Reading; staff from all 375 NHS Trusts will be trained by next April. This training can lead to BSc and MSc degrees accredited by the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at Portsmouth University.

The action follows Audit Commission figures that reveal that levels of corruption had nearly doubled in the past two years. The commission said that detected fraud in England and Wales rose from pounds 1.4m in 1992- 7 to pounds 2.2m in 1997/8, but admitted that the figure was likely to be much higher. One estimate, by the Healthcare Financial Management Association, put it at pounds 14m.

The Government accepts that patient prescription fraud alone costs the NHS pounds 150m a year, but ministers responsible for the pounds 34bn NHS budget want to be as vigilant about payroll and other crime committed by staff.

Mr Dobson said that the overwhelming majority of the NHS's one million staff were interested in nothing other than caring for patients. "That's why it's doubly important that the tiny minority that do resort to fraud are rooted out, stopped and punished. That would be good for patients, good for the rest of the staff and good for the taxpayer," he said. "The NHS is winning the battle against fraud, but the war goes on. for the first time, counter-fraud professionals in the NHS will have their own qualification, their own academic recognition and their dedicated training centre."

Among the examples of fraud recorded in the past year is a dentist who made duplicate claims for patients to a total of more than pounds 70,000. Similar instances included opticians overclaiming for pairs of glasses and managers hiving off expensive drugs for resale on the black market.

In a related move, the NHS Directorate of Counter Fraud Services and the Audit Commission have agreed to work together to identify which systems are the most open to abuse, so that auditors and fraud teams are able to avoid duplication.