Swindling GPs prey on elderly

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The Independent Online
DOCTORS AND opticians involved in fraud are targeting nursing homes because residents are often confused and vulnerable and make poor witnesses when a scam is discovered, according to a survey.

Typical schemes involve prescribing new spectacles with stronger lenses to residents every few months and making out prescriptions for drugs that are never delivered.

John Flook of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, which conducted the survey said: "Nursing homes seem to be a favourite target, because their residents don't make reliable witnesses - if they are still alive."

The survey showed fraudulent schemes worth pounds 8m were detected by health authorities last year. The average fraud yielded pounds 50,000 but the association said those detected were the tip of the iceberg. The total cost of fraud to the NHS has been estimated at pounds 100m a year, only a fraction of which is recovered. This year ministers appointed the first NHS "fraudbuster", Jim Gee, who took up his post this month.

Examples of the scams, described at a conference in London yesterday, included a dentist who claimed payment for extraction of milk teeth from a patient aged over 100. In another case, a dentist claimed for filling, then extracting, then filling again and extracting again, the same teeth in the same patient.

One of the most popular frauds by opticians, revealed in the survey, was to claim payment for tinted lenses when the customer was supplied with plain lenses.

Fraud by opticians accounted for a third of the cases, the largest proportion. Mr Flook said: "Opticians put in for sight tests they have not done or make up bogus patients. Or they claim for a new frame when it has only been repaired."

GPs charged for drugs that were obtained free and acquired medical supplies for themselves by writing prescriptions, having them delivered to the surgery and then removing the prescription from the practice records.

The survey of 74 health authorities, 60 per cent of the total, revealed 163 cases of fraud had been investigated in the past year. Mr Flook said most health authorities had stepped up their anti-fraud activities but swindles by dentists in particular were still going unprosecuted.