Concern at fraud against mentally impaired

THE OFFICE that looks after the financial affairs of 30,000 mentally impaired people was yesterday criticised for failing to prevent pounds 150,000 of patients' money being stolen, writes Nicholas Timmins.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said it was 'seriously concerned' that the Public Trust Office had failed to keep up to date in its review of patients' accounts - often run by relatives or friends - 'since this check is vital to protect patients' funds and help prevent fraud and abuse'.

Any delay only added to the risks 'which a number of recent frauds have shown to be very real,' the committee said. Last year, 11 frauds were discovered in which pounds 150,000 was stolen from accounts run directly by the office. Police are investigating and pounds 40,000 has been recovered, with the Public Trust Office re-imbursing the patient's accounts.

But the committee noted that the rate of review of accounts run by patients' relatives or friends - known as private receiverships - had deteriorated in 1993- 94, while there had been no progress in clearing a backlog of unreviewed accounts run where the Public Trustee was the receiver.

'We look to the office to determine, as a matter of urgency, the measures necessary to get a firm grip on the problem.' The committee added: 'We are disturbed by the frauds committed against patients' accounts. Public sector fraud is always a serious matter and there are particular concerns when these occur in relation to some of the most vulnerable people in the community. We look to the office to review relevant financial controls and take appropriate steps to prevent any bogus payments.'

Committee of Public Accounts; 39th Report, Session 1993-94.