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GPs face probes over list ghosts

GPs face investigation and potential legal action by NHS fraudbusters as a result of the national campaign to clean practices' lists.

The Audit Commission will scrutinise lists this year and plans to refer GPs with suspicious numbers of ghost patients to local or national counter-fraud services.

The public spending watchdog has estimated there are 3.5 million ghost patients on practice lists in England after comparing census figures with patient numbers on NHS IT systems used to pay GPs.

The NHS Counter Fraud service told Pulse it would prosecute GPs found to have inflated their list in order to increase income.

Jim Gee, chief executive of the service, said local fraud officers would bring prosecutions for amounts under £15,000 and larger amounts would be referred to the national body.

He insisted GPs would not be prosecuted for 'error and forgetfulness', but refused to rule out investigating GPs who claimed they did not have time to carry out a list-cleaning exercise.

The Audit Commission ignored GPC pleas to delay the National Duplicate Registration Initiative until after this year because GPs would be busy implementing the new contract.

Mr Gee said fraud investigators would look for evidence GPs had 'knowingly with intent kept a record on their list knowing they would profit from the capitation fee'.

GPs argued it was hard for inner-city practices in particular to clean their lists and condemned the involvement of fraud services. They said

primary care organisations should ensure practices did not have ghost patients.

Dr Ambady Gopinathan, chair of Newham LMC and a GP in Plaistow, east London, said GPs in inner-city areas found it tough to identify who had left their list.

'We have got a huge ethnic population and a large number of migrants and refugees. They don't necessarily register with a GP when they move, and they don't know the system or have the language skills to tell the practice they are moving.'

Liverpool LMC secretary Dr Rob Barnett accused the Government of 'passing the buck' to GPs.

'The NHS is not removing patients from lists when they register elsewhere. The fault does not lie with GPs, it lies elsewhere,' he said.

By Nerys Hairon

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