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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?