Hundreds of thousands of additional nurses could be employed if the health service reduced the amount of money it loses annually through fraud, a report suggests.
The former head of NHS Counter Fraud Services has warned in a report that fraud is costing the NHS £5bn a year, with a further £2bn lost to financial errors.
The amount lost to fraud alone could pay for nearly 250,000 nurses, according to the report. It is the focus of an investigation by the Panorama programme, which is due to be broadcast tonight on BBC One at 8.30pm.
Jim Gee, co-author of the Portsmouth University study, was director of NHS Counter Fraud Services for eight years until 2006.
The £7bn estimate is based on a comparison with global figures, which suggest average losses to fraud and error of around 7% of healthcare budgets. It is 20 times higher than the figure recorded in the government’s annual fraud indicator report.
“We need to get on with tackling the problem and maximising resources available for proper patient care”
Mr Gee, who is currently director of counter fraud services at accountancy firm BDO LLP, identified key types of fraud as non-payment of prescription charges by patients, medical professionals claiming for work they have not done and overcharging by contractors.
“We need to not be embarrassed, or in denial, about the possibility of fraud taking place in the NHS,” he told Panorama.
“We need to get on with tackling the problem, minimising its cost, maximising resources available for proper patient care.”
However, the Department of Health has said it “does not recognise” the figures in the report.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “These shocking findings highlight that nothing has been done to tackle inefficiency and waste.
“Instead, frontline staff and services have suffered as the Health Service has sought to find its £3bn worth of savings a year,” he said.
“Tackling this fraud and dealing with its consequences would go a long way towards ensuring that the NHS can make savings without affecting patient care.”
Dr Carter added: “Rather than disputing the figures, the Department of Health should be taking immediate action.”