Auditors to make more spot checks for fraud in NHS

INDEPENDENT auditors will be told to step up spot checks for fraud and dishonesty at all levels of regional and district health authorities in the wake of scandals involving losses of up to pounds 67m.

The Government also plans to improve the training of non-executive directors - often appointed with little or no experience of running health services - before they take up their posts in regional health authorities.

Sir Duncan Nichol, the NHS chief executive, accepted yesterday that scandals in the Wessex and the West Midlands regional health authorities were allowed to develop unchecked, and that blurred lines of responsibility between senior managers and members were partly to blame.

Under fierce questioning from MPs on the cross-party Commons Public Accounts Committee, Sir Duncan said that West Midlands regional health authority had repeatedly breached Department of Health protocols on the award and monitoring of contracts.

He went on: 'We must go further in what we do to ensure that the non-executive directors do the job we expect them to do.'

Sir Duncan also made clear he wanted changes in the system for auditing health authorities that currently often place most emphasis on value-for-money scrutiny. He will ask auditors to carry out more 'probity audits', looking more at the degree of diligence and honesty in decision-making.

The committee postponed plans to question senior officers of the Wessex regional health authority yesterday until it had received further audit reports from Sir John Bourn, Comptroller and Auditor-General. Instead it focused on the pounds 4m losses sustained over the last three years by the West Midlands Regional Health Authority over a secret contract intended to improve cost-effectiveness of its supplies arm.

Sir James Ackers, who resigned his chairmanship of the authority last month, told MPs he had for months been unaware of staff unease surrounding a contract negotiated by Chris Watney, the authority's former director of regionally managed supplies. The contract was made in 1990 with a consultancy firm, United Research Group (URG), whose members now trade under the name of Gemini.

URG told Mr Watney it could help him save pounds 50m over five years for a health authority investment of pounds 1m. Instead, the association between the two bodies led to losses totalling pounds 4m. Questionable costs included consultants' expenses of pounds 350,000, according to Sir John's inquiry. This went on entertainment, leased houses in London and commuting by air.

Some money was squandered on 'team-building dinners' held purportedly to boost the morale of the consultants themselves, Stuart Fletcher, the new West Midlands general manager, said.

None of the staff directly involved in the losses had been disciplined, but instead had been allowed to resign or take early retirement, sometimes with substantial pay-offs, MPs were told.

Sir Duncan agreed with Robert Sheldon, committee chairman, that standards of conduct had fallen to 'wholly unacceptable' levels. 'There is no excuse for health authorities breaching their standing orders governing (contract) compliance,' he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'