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21.12.16

GP and mental health manager spared jail for £153,600 NHS fraud

Two mental health professionals have been convicted of defrauding Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG (SWBCCG) of £153,600 between 2012 and 2014 following an investigation by NHS Protect, the NHS’s counter fraud and security management service.

At the time, Lisa Hill and Dr Ian Walton were respected members of staff at the CCG with Hill a senior commissioning manager for mental health and Walton a clinical lead for mental health.

Both Hill and Walton were each given a suspended sentence of two years’ imprisonment plus 200 hours of unpaid work at Birmingham Crown Court yesterday. The pair must also pay back the full £153,600 between them within three months plus £7,500 each in prosecution costs.

Sue Frith, managing director of NHS Protect, said about the case: “Both their peers and the public will be dismayed by the criminality of Hill and Walton, who abused the high level of trust and respect they were once held in.”

“The argument that some of the stolen money was constructively spent can never justify defrauding the NHS. NHS Protect will follow up on all suspicions of fraud reported to us, and seek to prosecute wherever appropriate.”

Hill and Walton had been trustees of a charity, Primary Care Mental Health and Education (PRIMHE), delivering training under the charity name and attracting students from all over the UK.

The fraud occurred when ‘innovations’ funding the pair sought to apply for to help the charity was withdrawn to help ease winter pressures, inspiring them to submit an invoice to the CCG falsely claiming a successful bid for the funding. The invoice was signed off by the CCG in error and the pair then transferred 95% of the money into a bank account under their control.

Eventually a colleague of Hill suspected fraud and raised the alarm with senior staff, causing NHS Protect to mount its investigation.

The investigation revealed that the staff of SWBCCG’s member practices would have their training paid for by the CCG, meaning that it was in Hill’s financial interests to authorise students to attend courses she was lecturing on even though some of the students should not have been funded.

Andy Williams, accountable officer at SWBCCG, said: “We welcome today’s sentencing of former team members Lisa Hill and Dr Ian Walton. Patients and the public can be assured that we responded swiftly as soon as were made aware of the matter by an internal whistleblower.

“The CCG has taken the strongest action possible to prevent such fraudulent activity from ever happening again. The protection of public money and NHS assets is paramount and we are absolutely committed to safeguarding them both now and in the future.”

Prior to their crime, the pair had a high professional reputation with both being paid lecturers for Birmingham City University due to their expertise in mental health.

Walton had been a highly renowned clinician and had even been named Clinical Leader of the Year in 2012 when he was chair of the Black Country Local Commissioning Group.

NHS Protect and Local Counter Fraud Specialists found over £6.5m of fraud, bribery and corruption in the NHS in 2015-16 alone. At the end of the 2015-16 financial year, NHS Protect was investigating allegations worth in excess of £25m.

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