Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Errors were 'deliberately hidden'

Poor accounting practices prevented a deficit being noticed at Croydon primary care trust, according to a new report

The NHS has "failed" to hold anyone to account for a large scale financial mismanagement at a local trust, a damning report has concluded.

In June 2011, Croydon primary care trust reported a £5.5 million surplus when the true balance was actually a £22.7 million deficit.

Poor accounting practices "masked and prevented" the deficit from being identified sooner, a scrutiny committee into the finances at the south London trust found.

They said that accounting errors were "deliberately hidden" and called for the health service to identify and take action against those responsible. There should be an investigation into officers whose "action or inaction" may have been the cause of the overspend and the subsequent "cover up", their report states.

A previous investigation into the "fiasco", conducted by NHS London, did not provide proper public accountability and did not hold anyone responsible, the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee said. Many senior executives who were in charge at the time refused to give evidence to the committee, which has left "crucial questions unanswered", their report adds.

NHS Croydon's former chief executive Caroline Taylor, who has since been appointed as trust special administrator at South London Healthcare NHS Trust - the first ever NHS trust to be put into administration, was one of those who refused to answer questions by the committee - which is made up of members from six nearby local authorities.

The committee, which was formed by members of Croydon Council alongside representatives from Kingston, Merton, Richmond, Sutton and Wandsworth, said Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt should "compel" Ms Taylor to answer questions about her time at the trust. Finance director Stephen O'Brien and interim deputy director of finance Mark Phillips also refused to answer questions, a spokesman said.

Their report calls for the health authority which is now in charge of local health spending to review the qualifications of staff that have responsibility of budgets, after officials found that Mr Phillips, a former nightclub owner, "did not meet the qualification requirements for the role". They said that Mr Phillips was "running" the accounts at the trust while Mr O'Brien was on sick leave.

Mr Hunt should allow local health scrutiny committees to have "extra powers" to compel NHS officials to cooperate with future investigations, the committee said, after just one NHS representative answered their questions.

Councillor Tony Arbour, from the London borough of Richmond, said that the review highlighted the "impotence" of scrutiny committees.

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