NHS overpaid two GPs by nearly £1m after they were suspended from practising, the organisation’s annual report has revealed.
The document declared ‘cash losses’ of £964,000 which it said ‘relates to two suspended GPs within NHS England that had salary overpayments’, one ‘due to being ineligible for suspension payments’ and one ‘due to being paid more than they were entitled to’ between 2017 and 2022.
If a medical practitioner is suspended, they may be entitled to receive payments under the statutory regulations, whilst their case is pending a decision by a GMC tribunal.
NHS England clarified that the two GPs did not work directly for NHS England but that the wording ‘within’ related to the fact they were on the Performers’ List, which is held by NHS England.
The annual report added that ‘recovery of £473k of the £964k is being pursued as part of an ongoing criminal investigation’, however ‘the remainder is not able to be recovered due to legal advice that estoppel would be applicable’.
It noted that ‘new management processes with regard to suspension payments helped to identify these payments’ and said these processes ‘have improved controls and are intended to prevent recurrence of such cases’.
‘Actions such as a new payment mechanism and authorisation procedures have been implemented along with training on application of the suspension payment rules,’ the document added.
Gareth Davies, comptroller and auditor general at the National Audit Office, noted in his comments within the Annual Report regarding the first case that ‘NHS England made suspension payments to a medical practitioner beyond the period to which the medical practitioner was entitled to receive such payments’.
He said: ‘A doctor began receiving suspension payments in May 2017 following their suspension. The doctor was removed from the medical register by the General Medical Council during 2018/19. NHS England should have stopped paying suspension payments to this doctor following their removal from its medical performers list.
‘However, NHS England continued making suspension payments to this individual until May 2021.
‘Consequently, NHS England made payments of £473,747 over the financial years 2018/19 to 2021/22 in error. This was a serious control failing resulting from an absence of appropriate checks to ensure the ongoing entitlement. In this case NHS England is pursuing recovery of the overpaid suspension payments but considers the prospect of recovery is low. ‘
Regarding the second suspended GP, Mr Davies said: ‘NHS England made suspension payments to a medical practitioner who was never entitled to suspension payments. A doctor received suspension payments totalling £489,766 over the financial years 2017/18 to 2021/22.
‘In 2021/22, NHS England discovered that this doctor should never have received any suspension payments and that a serious control failing in 2017/18 had led to the commencement of suspension payments in error.
‘The suspension payments continued until 2021/22, when a change in how suspended medical practitioners were paid suspension payments by NHS England brought this case to light. In this case NHS England is not pursuing recovery of the overpaid suspension payments following legal advice.’
Qualifying the errors as an ‘irregularity’, Mr Davies added that he does ‘consider that insufficient regard has been paid to the framework of authorities and use of public funds and that the payments are therefore material by virtue of their nature’.
‘Removal of a medical practitioner from the medical register can often involve serious misconduct and I consider ineligible payment in those circumstances to be contentious. NHS England should have had checks in place to prevent or detect such payments.’
He noted that NHS England ‘has changed the process regarding assessing initial entitlement to suspension payments to medical practitioners and reviewing ongoing entitlement’ as well ‘the processes and controls for assessing entitlement to suspension payments and reviewing ongoing entitlement, to reduce the likelihood of irregular suspension payments’.
According to the annual report, the organisation has ‘taken several steps to improve the internal controls of how suspension payments are managed’, including ‘implementing new procedural guidance that ensures that payments are not made to medical practitioners until entitlement to suspension payment is validated by a named responsible individual in the region’.
‘All regional leads now complete monthly monitoring of suspensions, their status and payments being made. There is further improvement to controls by reporting all current suspension payments monthly via a Professional Standards Oversight Group, which contains national medical representation, which allows for peer review and improves visibility of all current cases. A training process for regional leads has also been carried out with emphasis on the policy and its application,’ the report added.
An NHS England spokesperson told Pulse: ‘Since these incidents, NHS England has changed the processes regarding suspension payments to ensure that this is not repeated.’
The report also revealed that NHS England is still seeking to recover more than £28m it historically overpaid GPs in seniority payments.