GP ‘ghost patients' to be investigated for fraud

The NHS Counter Fraud Authority is launching its own investigation into GPs in England amid suspicions they are claiming for non-existent patients.

Doctors' leaders have always insisted the issue of ghost patients most often has an innocent explanation, such as instances where patients have died or moved without the knowledge of their GP.

However, last year there were 3.6 million more patients in the system than there were people in England. With doctors receiving £150 a year for each patient on their list, NHS England was promoted to employ a company to start chasing up these so-called ghost patients. The Capita list cleaning exercise has started to see a reduction in the numbers being claimed for, but the NHS Counter Fraud Authority has said it will run its own investigation.

The average GP has approximately 1,700 patients on their list. The fraud team have estimated that up to £88 million may be being incorrectly claimed for - representing around one per cent of the GP budget.

The BBC has reported that NHS fraud investigators have already identified some ‘anomalies’ that have raised suspicions, with NHSCFA set to carry out a full analysis of records held by NHS England and the NHS Business Services Authority, which administer the payments systems to GP practices, to see if doctors have been fraudulently claiming for patients.

Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "The insinuation that GPs – some of the most trusted professionals in society - are complicit in defrauding the health service is shocking and will be incredibly hurtful for hard-working GPs and their teams who are struggling to deliver care to more than a million patients a day across the country, with insufficient time, resources or workforce to do so.

"It is, of course, important to make sure that patient lists are kept as up-to-date as possible, so that resources are used where they are most needed – and our administrative staff already spend a lot of time processing patients' notes when we are informed that they have died, left the surgery or moved elsewhere. But so-called ‘ghost patients’ are nothing sinister - they are the result of a records management issue, not a case of surgeries deliberately profiting by keeping patients on their lists when they shouldn't be there.

"We appreciate that it is NHS England's responsibility to review patient lists and put the appropriate measures in place to ensure that methods of doing this are safe. But to publicise that they are getting their in-house ‘fraud squad’ involved, as well as outsourcing the task to a company that many healthcare professionals across the country have little faith in to do a good and fair job, is demoralising for GPs and a questionable use of scant NHS resources."

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