A nurse who did agency work while off sick from her main job at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 16 months in prison.
Vivian Coker was found to have defrauded the trust of more than £32,000, after she worked for two nursing agencies while signed off sick from her substantive role on the neurosurgical ward at St George’s Hospital in Tooting.
“Cases such as this are rare, and our staff provide first-rate care for the communities we serve”
The 53-year-old was found guilty of two counts of fraud by false misrepresentation and jailed for 16 months last week following an investigation led by the trust’s counter fraud team.
The investigation revealed Ms Coker, from Camberwell in London, had worked for the Pulse and Zentar agencies while signed off sick from August 2014 to May 2016, defrauding the trust of £32,745.
The recruitment agencies, Home Office and police assisted local counter fraud specialists with the case, according to the NHS Counter Fraud Authority.
Matrons on the ward in question were also involved in assisting with enquiries, the body added.
After a disciplinary hearing in August 2016, Ms Coker was dismissed for gross misconduct by the trust for working while off sick. The case was also referred to the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
She went on to be questioned by the police and was charged with fraud, initially pleading not guilty to all counts. At a hearing at Kingston Crown Court on 13 July, she pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud by misrepresentation.
In passing sentence, judge Hunter said Ms Coker had caused harm by stealing from a cash-strapped health service.
“The offences involved a long period of stealing from the NHS knowing the NHS was short of funds and knowing that when money was taken, innocent people would suffer,” he said.
“It is in all our interests that the perpetrators are identified and prosecuted”
St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said it was right that action was taken against fraudsters but stressed such cases were rare.
“We take fraud extremely seriously, and our counter fraud team thoroughly investigate any evidence of wrongdoing or foul play,” said a trust spokeswoman.
“Cases such as this are rare, and our staff provide first-rate care for the communities we serve,” she said. “However, it is right and proper that the NHS acts quickly and decisively when cases of fraud such as this are detected.”
Richard Hampton, head of intelligence and fraud prevention at the authority, said: “The nursing community is a vital ally in the fight against NHS fraud. If you spot something that doesn’t seem quite right and could be a fraud, please do report it to our reporting line 0800 028 4060 or online.
“We believe working whilst sick fraud is still under-reported, and it is in all our interests that the perpetrators are identified and prosecuted,” he told Nursing Times.