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PCT calls in fraud team over claims of leak to private firm

By Steve Nowottny

A PCT says it has called in NHS counter-fraud investigators over claims it released financial plans to the private sector before they went public.

The NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service said it was investigating the circumstances leading up to Virgin Healthcare receiving a list of services worth millions of pounds Swindon PCT planned to pass from hospitals to primary care.

A former Virgin Healthcare employee claims the information may have been leaked, but the PCT and Virgin Healthcare both insist the document was not confidential and was already in the public domain.

A Virgin Healthcare document to senior staff, dated February this year, detailed Swindon PCT's proposals to shift more than £8m of services, including almost £900,000 of general surgery, from hospitals in the area.

The memo, seen by Pulse, says: ‘We need to prepare ourselves to respond to potential tenders… This is where the ability to do private work can give a foot in the door.'

In a taped conversation from 10 March, heard by Pulse, former Virgin employee John Spencer was told by Nicola Dunn, director of finance at Swindon PCT, that the document was due to be considered by the PCT board in public session at the end of March.

She said she was ‘surprised' a private company had access to the figures.

Virgin Healthcare is expected to open its first GP surgery in Swindon early next year.

Mark Adams, CEO of Virgin Healthcare, claimed the information had been public since January. He told Pulse: ‘It's exactly the same information that was at the PCT board meeting which is on the website, and a matter of public record.'

Mr Spencer has also raised concern over a possible conflict of interest after a separate Virgin Healthcare document spoke of Swindon PCT appointing the uncle of Virgin Healthcare's Swindon project manager to head up the trust's negotiations.

The second memo written in January and obtained by Pulse said: ‘Encouragingly they have appointed the uncle of our Swindon Project Manager Nick Carter to act on the PCT's behalf in reaching agreement in these negotiations.'

‘Initial meetings with Alan Carter have gone well and we are hopeful of securing appropriate diagnostic activity during the lead up to the opening of the practice in June.'

Mr Adams said Nick Carter had been a contractor rather than an employee of Virgin Healthcare, and had finished the work he was contracted to do two months ago. He insisted he was confident there had been no conflict of interest.

Swindon PCT said: ‘We did explore and were fully satisfied there has been no conflict of interest between Mr Carter and any other party involved in the PCT projects he has advised on.'

Virgin Healthcare said it would cooperate fully with any investigation, adding: ‘Virgin Healthcare is confident it has acted correctly in all its dealings with Swindon PCT.'

NHS Counter Fraud Service

The NHS Counter Fraud Service is part of the NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service, established in 1998. Its remit is to tackle all losses of fraud and corruption in all areas of NHS spending.

The service includes a ‘first line of defence' with dedicated counter-fraud resources in each health body, as well as regional, national and specialist teams to handle complex investigations.

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