Ex-NHS boss jailed for £200,000 fraud

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The Independent Online

A former senior NHS manager who doctored invoices totalling more than £200,000 to pay for the running of her stud farm business was today jailed for two years and nine months.

Louise Tomkins, 48, of Faygate, West Sussex, fraudulently signed off NHS payments running to £201,333.27 to fund the upkeep of thoroughbreds and pay for horse semen, breaching the trust of her employers.

Sentencing Tomkins at Southwark Crown Court, judge James Wadsworth QC said: "You are clearly a woman of very great ability and up to this point of very high character. The difficulty and sadness of cases such as this is only people of high ability could get themselves in a position where they can defraud people and the NHS of the amount of money you took."

He told Tomkins that over the course of a year she "indulged" her hobby of running an expensive stud farm knowing she did not have the finances to sustain it.

Max Hardy, prosecuting, told the court how Tomkins was working as a general manager at Hammersmith Hospital NHS Trust, when her post became threatened through a merger to form the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in October 2007.

She secured a secondment working as interim director of operations at Ealing Hospital NHS Trust in June 2008 managing a budget of £57 million.

Her fraudulent actions were uncovered when a successor found a series of "unusual invoices" for medical photography services.

Concern about them led to closer scrutiny by the NHS Counter Fraud Service and Metropolitan Police of other invoices made out by Tomkins and she was suspended in September 2008.

When interviewed by police she admitted creating invoices for goods and services to the NHS, which were paying the "significant costs" attached to running her stud farm.

Invoices for a £3,000 titanium skull cap, psychological assessment of breast cancer patients and conference facilities in fact funded rent on her yard, work to her stables, land for grazing, horse saddles and payment for the insemination of four mares.

Mr Hardy said her actions constituted a "gross breach of trust" and her employers "suffered significantly from the losses inflicted on them by Mrs Tomkins".

On January 21, this year she pleaded guilty to committing fraud between July 7 2007 and September 17 2008 by making false representations to the NHS through submitting invoices totalling £201,333.27 for work or services.

Neil Saunders, mitigating, said Tomkins was of good character, who worked her way up the NHS career ladder.

He said: "Nobody ever suspected that she would become a woman that would find herself in the dock and about to go to prison for breach of trust."

Her actions, he said, were not motivated by greed to fund a lavish lifestyle and that she had owned horses for 20 years.

In 2005 she invested £100,000 of her own savings to progress her business and wrongly believed she would receive a considerable sum of money following the death of her father in 2007.

He said she had experienced a number of periods of mental ill health brought on by stress and had attempted to take her own life following the breakdown of her marriage in 1998.

Her job difficulties came shortly after she had put down a £3,000 deposit on a £40,000 horse.

Mr Saunders said she "fell into this fraud" faced with the pressure of bills for her stud farm business, health problems and her employment uncertainty.

The court heard how the sentencing was postponed to allow Tomkins to sell her horses at auction during the Spring, but she still owed £50,000 in debts.

She wept in the dock as one former colleague described her as "an exceptional manager" who displayed "passion and commitment" to the NHS.

Judge Wadsworth QC said he would give Tomkins credit for an early plea and ordered her to serve half of her sentence before being eligible for parole.

In a statement, the NHS Counter Fraud Service said Tomkins was dismissed for gross misconduct at a disciplinary hearing held by the Trust in November last year.

The investigation also prevented the payment of a redundancy package of £41,944.00 about to be given to Tomkins, to settle a grievance she had brought against the Trust.

It added that her role at the Hammersmith Hospital included acting as a Fund Advisor for hospital charitable funds, which she misused, again through falsified invoices, to benefit her own business.

Kevin Cane, London regional team manager of the NHS Counter Fraud Service, said: "This was a very serious matter. Louise Tomkins flagrantly abused her very senior positions, positions of trust.

"She deliberately diverted NHS resources away from frontline services and patient care for her own gain.

"Anyone who seeks to defraud the NHS needs to understand that they will be investigated, and could ultimately go to jail and destroy their career."