Belfast Telegraph

Everyone can help fight the fraud that cost us millions, Health Minister tells MLAs

Stormont Executive press release - Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety

All citizens in Northern Ireland can play a part in the fight against fraud in our health service. 

That was the key message from Health Minister Edwin Poots to MLAs in the Assembly today as he updated them on Fraud Awareness Month and the fight against fraud which could cost over a quarter of a billion pounds every year.

At the start of October, Mr Poots launched Fraud Awareness Month at the Grove Wellbeing Centre, Belfast. 

Today in the Assembly he said: “We all have a duty to counter and report fraud and corruption, wherever we work and by whomever it is perpetrated. Such activities are unprofessional, indefensible and ultimately reduce the monies available for front line services. Fraud is wrong. It is a criminal offence and will not be tolerated.” 

He added: “It is important to recognise that the vast majority of people are honest and would not consider acting fraudulently. But cases have already come to light; clinical professionals who make claims for services not supplied; nursing staff who claim grants to which they are not entitled; senior managers who claim for journeys never travelled; support staff who undertake private work while on sick leave; members of the public who try to evade payment for treatments. The House has heard about inappropriate access to free healthcare in Northern Ireland where those not ordinarily resident here fraudulently use an address to secure access to free healthcare services – both within the primary and secondary care settings. This activity represents a significant drain on resources.” 

The Minister told the Assembly that whilst the true extent of fraud in Health and Social Care (HSC), and indeed across the NHS nationally, is not known, independent research suggests a potential level of fraud may be between 3-7%. Taking the highest figure, that equates to over a quarter of a billion pounds of the Department’s budget. 

However, even if the level of fraud was estimated at 1%, the cost to HSC is some £40 million of the Health budget which would buy: 

· 4,000 coronary heart by-pass procedures; or
· 55,000 cataract surgical procedures; or
· 5,500 hip replacements; or
· 1,000 patients receiving renal dialysis treatment.

Mr Poots told MLAs that his aim was to raise the profile of the threat of fraud and he wanted to highlight how it is being tackled. He said: “Everyone has a part to play. Everyone who accesses services or works to deliver services has a role to play. It’s everyone’s duty to report fraud or suspected fraud, whether it be through the HSC Fraud Hotline, or through the HSC’s online reporting tool or indeed through the relevant organisation’s whistle-blowing procedures. Any information, no matter how small, can be of assistance in combating fraud.”

He said there is already a significant amount of counter fraud work being undertaken by the HSC’s Counter Fraud Unit which employs a team of trained specialised staff. He told MLAs: “The Counter Fraud Unit is currently investigating over 100 cases covering all types of Fraudulent Activity. During the last year, there have been some notable successes.”

Mr Poots concluded: “Fraud is wrong – it is unethical, immoral and unlawful. We all pay the price and front line services suffer. Everyone has a responsibility to be alert to fraud and to minimise the risk of fraud. I am committed to developing a real anti-fraud culture, where everyone regards fraud as unacceptable and understands their role in eliminating it.” 

Notes to editors:

1. The Minister statement in full can be viewed at http://www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/fraudstatement151013

2. Fraud Awareness Month began on 2 October 2013 and will run until 31 October 2013. 

3. The Fraud Hotline is available on 0800 096 33 96 or report suspected fraud at http://www.reporthealthfraud.hscni.net

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