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General practice responsible for £88m of fraudulent behaviour, claims NHS report

The NHS could be losing £1.29bn every year due to economic crime, with £88m of that from general practice, according to an NHS England strategy document. 

In a new fraud, bribery and corruption strategy report, NHS England said fraud within general practice included list inflation, claiming for services not provided, quality payments manipulation, conflicts of interest and self-prescribing.

The document revealed figures from the NHS Counter Fraud Authority which found that primary care services as a whole, including pharmacy and dentistry, contributed to 58% of the estimated £1.29bn losses.

A further £2.2m is estimated to be lost from NHS pensions each year.

However, the BMA said it was wrong to extrapolate figures which 'don't have a firm basis' and send the wrong message to GPs and practice staff. 

The document blamed the ‘high trust environments’ within general practice, which allow ‘considerable scope for manipulation’.

The strategy said: ‘Primary care services are provided on the whole by independent contractors, who operate as businesses in their own right. They are commissioned by NHS England and CCGs via a variety of contractual arrangements.

‘These high trust environments present considerable scope for manipulation and sharp practice. There is the potential for differing interpretations in relation to clinical opinion and some areas operate historic paper-based claims systems.’

The strategy laid out NHS England’s response to fraud until 2021, which was to make a culture where fraud is ‘neither ignored nor tolerated’.

It said: ‘[The vision is to ensure] Everyone is aware of the risk to patient care presented by economic crime and the impact it has on the ability of NHS England to carry out its business objectives. A culture is embedded where fraud is neither ignored nor tolerated.’

The document said general practice had a ‘high’ priority for future action, however, that it was difficult to measure the cost of fraud.

It said: ‘There are considerable gaps in intelligence with reference to fraud risks in primary care areas, a significant proportion of current work and future priorities therefore relate to primary care.

‘This is due in part to the lack of available intelligence and the historical data which shows that fraud does occur in these areas. Due to the nature of primary care information and the way it is held, there are a number of barriers which need to be overcome to effectively apply proactive analytics within primary care.’

It added that a key consideration for the strategy was the need to establish a collaborative approach to fraud.

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey, said: 'The vast majority of staff in the NHS go to work to do a good job for patients. In a complex, large industry, errors will be made – but it is often that, rather than deliberate fraud.

'Where there are exceptional cases, which often impact on GPs and partners in the practices as much as anyone else, they need to be dealt with appropriately.

'We will never defend those who defraud the NHS, but to extrapolate to create figures that don’t have a firm basis should not be done. It sends the completely wrong message to dedicated GPs and practice staff, who are working hard to deliver as good a service as possible, at a time when the Government and NHS bosses should be telling them how valued they are.

'It’s doubly insulting to the profession when NHS England has singularly failed to resolve the problems created by Capita in its handling of GP backroom services, meaning practices themselves are often left out of pocket through no fault of their own.'

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'Hardworking GPs and their teams – who today alone will deliver care to over a million people under intense resource and workforce pressures - will be shocked and hurt to hear that insinuations they are complicit in somehow defrauding our national health service are still being propagated.

'NHS England has a responsibility to review patient lists and ensure that resources are used where they are most needed, and our administrative staff spend a lot of time trying to ensure our patient records are as up to date as possible. But records can never be perfect as our patients’ circumstances change all the time – it is an inevitable consequence of having a patient list, it is certainly not a case of surgeries deliberately and systematically profiting by keeping patients on their lists when they shouldn't be there.'

She added: 'Where fraudulent activity occurs it needs to be taken seriously, but to single out general practice when what is needed is a wide-ranging programme to tackle any deliberate fraud in the NHS, is profoundly demoralising for GPs and a distraction from the wider issues of improving value for money from our scant NHS resources.'

It follows the news that complaints about GPs in England dropped by 5% in a year.

This article has been updated to clarify that the figures come from NHS Counter Fraud Authority.

Readers' comments (28)

  • Sounds like another barrage of attack on primary care.

    58% of £1.29bn is £748m
    Which means pharmacists and dentists are defrauding to the tune of £660m

    My understanding is that GP funding is topsliced to account for "ghost" patients, as well as regular attacks on patients who've not seen their GP for years.

    I wonder how much hospitals "defraud" the NHS by?

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  • Well said GP Monkey

    Default NHS E GP's must be the worst as they are easiest to shift blame onto!

    Keep this sort of crap coming it will really help both "talking up the GP job" and "staff retention"

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  • Here we go again. Ghost patients round 2. This is what happens when you have too many bureaucrats with nothing better to do than harass people trying to do the job. Toxic UK. Anyone that come will soon leave. They want even more control and generate more paper work to justify their jobs. I think it is time the BMA take us out of the NHS and go the dentist's way for professional freedom. We can then actually use our skills to the full and taylor care according to the patient's need without interference. A medical consultation is a very private business between the doctor and patient. Nobody else should be interfering. The patient can always sue if we mess up.

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  • I wonder how much GPs are 'defrauded' by the NHS in not getting full payment of fees etc?

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  • Dear All,
    88 million from 1.2 billion. Thats 0.0007% of the total. Well worth focusing on that then. Ignore the other 99.9993%.
    What bean counting thinking. I'd have said producing such a nonsense report is a fraud in itself.
    Paul C

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  • Here is the report:

    I don't understand why Pulse doesn't give the link. Anyway it is clear that these are figures plucked out of the air or as they put it "lowest level of confidence".
    Any fraud is unacceptable and culprits should be struck off but this looks like normal service routine GP bashing.

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  • Fraudulent: obtained, done by, or involving deception, especially criminal deception.
    Is it possible to libel a profession?
    They should be ashamed of themselves.

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  • Spot on, Paul Cundy: 88 million from 1.2 billion is 0.0007% of the total. Why is GP being focused on - again?

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  • Vinci Ho

    Ok . It is probably logical to say every tree has some bad apples as far as the outsiders are concerned. But , always a but , how would one verify the evidence and classify the ‘severity’ of the problem realistically , are the bottom line questions here .
    I dare you NHSE to ‘promote’ these figures to the media (especially you know who and which) and let them spin and see what happens??
    The crisis of retention and recruitment started from the top of the hierarchy and I stand by my argument, the government and the country need GPs more than GPs need them .
    So please go ahead , spin with these figures 😑

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  • Capita dumped medical records they had been paid to deliver, diverted money that should have been paid into pensions etc etc...
    So when NHSE said they would hold Capita to account but then did nothing, NHSE became complicit in NHS fraud.

    This constructive insinuation from NHSE is the lowest of the low: a resurgence of Jeremy Hunt's calumniatory attempt to undermine Junior Doctors' reputations in 2017.
    BMA response needs to show a very large, qualified, middle finger.

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