A former hospital trust chief executive with a background in nursing faces jail after she pleaded guilty to fraudulently paying her husband more than £11,000.
Paula Vasco-Knight, former head of South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, and her husband Stephen had pleaded not guilty to fraud at Exeter Crown Court but today changed their pleas.
“It will be a huge disappointment and shock to many”
Court recorder Don Tait told the high profile former NHS manager that she should expect jail time for her part in the fraud, which involved giving work to her husband’s graphic design business Thinking Caps. The couple will be sentenced on 10 March.
In December 2012, Ms Vasco-Knight was awarded a £10,000 bursary for leadership development, the court heard
In November 2013, her husband submitted an invoice to the NHS for £11,072, from the bursary funds, to produce a 200-page leadership improvement document Transform. Ms Vasco-Knight then authorised the trust to pay his company.
Prosecutor Gareth Evans said Ms Vasco-Knight was legally bound to declare her interest in her husband’s company as part of the NHS’s standing financial instructions, but failed to do so.
Mr Evans said the document was never submitted to the NHS, with the couple showing investigators a “complete sham” as evidence in 2014.
Ms Vasco-Knight was also charged with another count of fraud for a £9,000 newsletter produced by her husband’s company. The prosecution, led by NHS Protect, offered no evidence for the other charge against her and she was found not guilty.
Habib Naqvi, a senior equalities manager at NHS England, was found not guilty of two charges of encouraging or assisting in the commission of an offence.
NHS Protect managing director Sue Frith said: “It will be a huge disappointment and shock to many that Paula Vasco-Knight, who has led on equality in the NHS and whose personal story was an inspiration to so many, has abused her position of trust and committed fraud against the NHS.
“Stephen Vasco-Knight’s offence is no less disappointing,” she said. “Between them they defrauded over £11,000 of NHS money that is sorely needed.”
Ms Vasco-Knight joined the NHS as a “pupil nurse” in the 1980s, before going on to train as a registered nurse and becoming an accident and emergency sister.
She subsequently became director of nursing at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, going on to also become its deputy chief executive and ultimately be appointed chief executive.
In 2008 she moved to South Devon NHS Trust, now Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, as chief executive.
Ms Vasco-Knight was awarded a CBE in the 2014 New Year honours list for services to the NHS. But claims of “nepotism” emerged early in the same year involving two whistleblowers.
In May 2014, she stepped down from her role at South Devon Healthcare, several months after she was suspended in the wake of an employment tribunal judgement.
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Ms Vasco-Knight was also NHS England’s national lead for equality from July 2012 until February 2014, when it was announced that her “part-time secondment” to the role had ended.
Then, in May last year, she was suspended as acting chief executive of St George’s University Hospitals NHS Trust in London over “financial allegations” related to a previous employer.