Posted on September 13, 2011

Phantom Patients Net GPs Millions: How Dishonest Doctors Claim NHS Cash for Dead Patients and Non-Existent Treatments

Neil Sears et al., Daily Mail (London), September 10, 2011

Dishonest GPs are defrauding the taxpayer of millions of pounds by claiming money for ‘ghost patients’.

Some family doctors are retaining the details of patients who have died or left the country so they still receive annual NHS payments of up to £100 for every person registered with them.

In a separate scam, there is evidence of surgeries inserting bogus information on genuine medical records to claim vast sums of NHS cash for check-ups that never take place.

One investigation suggested there could be as many as 3.5million ‘ghost patients’ at surgeries in England–many of whom have been dead for up to 20 years. Now the Audit Commission has launched a fresh probe aimed at lifting the lid on illicit practices feared to cost the taxpayer more than £100million a year.

The spotlight has been thrown on the fraud after four doctors were suspended over allegations they earned millions by claiming to treat more than a thousand people who were overseas or had died.

The doctors claimed to have 8,150 patients on their books–but the General Medical Council and NHS fraud specialists have launched inquiries into claims that up to 3,000 of those were either non-existent, or genuine but with false information on their records.

In addition, some patients at the practice, in South London, were falsely recorded as suffering from dementia or obesity, or as having been given drugs or flu vaccinations they had not had.

By inserting these false records, the GPs would have been able to boost their income by claiming extra payments for carrying out check-ups which were incentivised under Labour’s controversial Quality and Outcome Framework.

The deception could have endangered lives and also affected patients’ life insurance policies.

Every patient on the practice register is now being called in for a health check to ensure records are accurate.

Investigators believe the fraud is just the tip of the iceberg. A previous report by the Audit Commission, in 2004, warned that the NHS could be wasting £100million a year paying surgeries for patients who don’t exist.

The latest scandal focuses on the Streatham Place Surgery in Streatham, South London, which was run by husband and wife GPs Arun, 70, and Jayanti Singh, 67, and their employees Dr Vinodray Patel and Dr Nusrat Mazhar.

An NHS report into the practice, seen by the Daily Mail, said patient safety could not be guaranteed and that the system of record-keeping was ‘inherently unsafe’.

In just one sample of patients, the investigation found one who was dead and others who had moved to Ireland and India. A further two had been recorded as having flu jabs despite being ‘probably abroad on a long-term basis’.

In January the local health body, NHS Lambeth, was given a tip-off about fraud at the surgery. It was suggested that the practice attracted many patients from the Indian High Commission, yet when they moved on to new postings their names allegedly stayed on the surgery list.

Additional money was earned, it was claimed, by pretending that patients were being monitored for chronic diseases. Others were left on the register after hospitals sent letters saying they were dead.

Last night Dr Jayanti Singh spoke only briefly at her £1.25million detached home.

She said: ‘The investigation which has been going on has not been proved. We have actually resigned our contract to run the practice.’

Asked whether more than 1,000 of her patients lived overseas, and others were dead, she said: ‘No, no, no.’

The GMC confirmed it was investigating the four doctors and that they had been suspended for 18 months. If evidence of fraud is found, criminal proceedings leading to jail sentences could follow. The doctors could also be struck off.

Last night, Dr Laurence Buckman, of the British Medical Association, said: ‘I am amazed that this could take place for so long. If these GPs have been keeping patients’ records when they shouldn’t be, then it is fraud.’

The pay of GPs has soared since the introduction by Labour in 2004 of a ‘bungled’ new contract. Many are now on salaries in excess of £250,000.