A former senior IT manager working at what was then the Mid Essex Hospital Trust (MEHT) has pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud by false representation and two charges of cheating the public revenue after defrauding the NHS of close to £1m.
MEHT – which ran hospitals in Braintree, Chelmsford and Morden but has now been merged into the Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust – was cheated out of a total of £806,229.80 by Barry Stannard of Chelmsford, who was head of unified communications at the organisation.
Chelmsford Crown Court heard last week how Stannard, who as a band 8B senior manager was in a highly trusted position within the NHS structure, submitted a “nil return” declaration of interests form to MEHT while actually serving as the director of two companies that received a large sum of money from the trust between 2012 and 2019.
These companies submitted hundreds of invoices to MEHT, all for fairly modest sums, which meant Stannard was authorised to sign off payment from the trust’s IT budget without being checked. No products or services invoiced for were ever provided to the NHS.
Stannard also charged for VAT on the invoices, which he never forwarded to HM Revenue & Customs, which accounted for £132,000 of his total gains. The VAT registration number quoted on some of the invoices was falsified, although it related to a legitimate company.
Red flags were first raised when MEHT ran a data-matching exercise on its payroll and accounts-payable records alongside Companies House records. The investigation began first with forensic accountants at RSM, before being escalated to a national-level probe conducted by the NHS’s in-house Counter Fraud Authority (NHSCFA).
NHSCFA has recently renewed its focus on instances of procurement fraud and is encouraging others to come forward to report suspicious activity, either at its website or via telephone on 0800 028 4060.
The unit covers a broad range of economic crimes under its definition of fraud, including cyber-enabled fraud, bribery, corruption, and other illegal activity committed by an individual or group to obtain financial or professional gain.
This has included acts such as the “creation” of non-existent patients to obtain extra resources or funding or continuing to work while signed off as sick.
NHSCFA estimates that the NHS lost over £1bn to fraud during the 2018-19 financial year, draining the health service of funds and impacting patient care.
Other recent instances of fraud handled by the unit include the successful prosecution of a Cardiff GP who funnelled stolen cheques into his bank account, and submitted false claims for exaggerated hours and locum shifts that he failed to work, to fund a serious gambling addiction. This earned a two-year suspended sentence, given the mitigating circumstances.
In another recent case, a financial specialist who managed to hold down three concurrent financial directorships at NHS trusts in Cheshire, Merseyside and Staffordshire – at one stage receiving a salary of £2,000 a day – was sentenced to 11 years and five months in prison at Leeds Crown Court in April 2021.