The conviction of two dentists for NHS fraud marked the end of one of the longest prosecutions of its kind in history. Health Correspondent Alison Dayani discovers why such crimes are becoming common
The imprisonment of two dentists who cheated patients and the NHS out of thousands of pounds marks the end of a lengthy six-year probe for investigators.
The relief for Derek Johnson, the deputy head of operations at NHS Counter Fraud Service, is plain to see after the longest investigation in his career.
Ikhlaq Hussain, (38), of College Road, Alum Rock, and Jaspal Bachada, (37), of Redlake Drive, Stourbridge, duped patients at their practice in Blackfriars Road, Droitwich, out of up to £25,000 by inflating their charges.
The pair bought the practice in 2002 when many people could not get dental treatment on the NHS.
They had seen a golden opportunity to take on large numbers of patients, even if it meant lowering standards and squeezing out additional money by charging them what were, in fact, private fees when they believed they were not.
Bachada had pretended he could do NHS work when he was not permitted to do so for the Droitwich practice. False claims were put through other practices, using the names of other dentists.
Hussain is now starting a 30-month jail term for two offences of conspiracy to defraud, while Bachada, who admitted the same charges early on, was sentenced to 20 months in prison.
“This case took five to six years from investigation to conviction because of the complexity and these dentists putting every possible obstruction in the way,” said Mr Johnson.
“That is a real extreme, as you normally expect a case to go through in about 18 months.
“But when you get a result like this, it vindicates all the resources and effort that has been put in to the investigation.”
It is a busy time for the NHS fraud team. Launched ten years ago, Mr Johnson explained how the recession coincided with a rise in these crimes.
“We look at fraud across the NHS, in every type of job from cleaners and dentists up to consultants.
“It is only a small number of people involved in it, two or so per cent, but that doesn’t mean we should overlook it.
“With the credit crunch, fraud has increased. Where some people see an opportunity, they commit fraud, it’s very sad.
“We see expenses fraud, time shift fraud for hours they haven’t worked, procurement fraud over services being bought in with the collusion of people in the NHS and prescription fraud.
“One of the main crimes we are seeing a lot of now is NHS bursary fraud. People going for sponsored university courses that they have no right to be on, many are foreign. They get course fees and grants to support them and their family, it’s getting to be a real problem.”
Bursary fraud can involve large amounts of NHS cash. Recent cases include the 10-month imprisonment of two African sisters, Charity and Thoko Nkosi, aged 36 and 37, from Luton and Corby, who trained as NHS nurses using forged documents to gain almost £123,000 in bursaries.
Zimbabwean Chiedza Mangwende, aged 25, used a false identity visa to enrol on a course at Coventry University and scam the NHS out of more than £12,000.
She was handed a six-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 100 hours of community service at Birmingham Crown Court this year.
Employment agency invoicing is another hotspot for fraud.
In 2008–09, £600 million was paid to recruitment agencies by health bodies but a detailed financial analysis of agency worker invoices at 11 trusts identified overcharging in excess of £960,000.
From April 2009 to March this year, the NHS fraud squad physically recovered £3 million but by taking criminals out of the system, preventing the loss of £10.9 million.
There were 10,482 cases of potential fraud detected and investigated, 65 prosecutions and 95 civil and disciplinary sanctions applied.
Since investigators were hired a decade ago, there have been 616 successful prosecutions and £65 million of NHS funds recovered.
Investigators, many with a police and audit background, never seem to have a quiet moment, especially in the current economic climate.
Former Work and Pensions investigator Mr Johnson is already turning his attention to new crimes, but for now he can rest easy that the case of Hussain and Buchada has finally been put to bed.