NHS fraud watchdog barks about first conviction

The comms team for the recently established NHS Counter Fraud Authority (NHSCFA) has delivered on its objective of securing a raft of media coverage for its first conviction.

Convicted with NHSCFA evidence: Andrew Taylor
Convicted with NHSCFA evidence: Andrew Taylor

Andrew Taylor, a locksmith for Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, was sentenced on 26 March to six years in prison for defrauding the Health Service of £598,000. 

The authority’s comms team helped the Press Association get a story out on its PA Newswire service immediately after sentencing. It also distributed a press release to 400 media outlets via the Gorkana platform. 

James Robertson, senior media relations officer at the NHSCFA, said: "It was important to demonstrate that in the first six months of its life, our new organisation is already active and effective."

Fraud cost public health services £1.25bn in 2015/16 alone, according to the NHSCFA’s estimates. The body's comms team is tasked with helping to tackle the problem by talking about it to as many different audiences as possible. 

The Taylor case had particular impact on the general public, which, Robertson said, "was outraged that the trusted figure of a hospital locksmith would abuse that trust, steal their money as taxpayers, and divert scarce resources from patient care". 

Taylor committed the fraud by first creating and then picking his own company to provide security hardware to the Trust that employed him – charging the NHS mark-ups of as much as 1,200 per cent. 

The story was carried by the BBC and ITV online, as well as in print by the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and 19 local newspapers, sparking "many outraged comments". 

"Although prevention is better than cure with fraud, a prosecution will always excite public and media attention in a way that policies and procedures never will," Robertson said.

The NHSCFA’s release explained the role that its forensic computing and financial investigations units played in gathering evidence against Taylor, who the CFA is also pursuing to recoup the money lost. 

The comms team gave the NHS Trust advance notice of its plans to shout about the conviction. 

"The more sophisticated comms operations like Guys’ and St Thomas’ are not alarmed by a fraud story," Robertson said. "They know that NHSCFA’s job is to shine a light on NHS fraud, and they stand by to answer related media enquiries that we don’t have the answers to."

NHS staff are the most likely source of tips to the fraud hotline and are therefore a key audience for the NHSCFA, so the comms team was pleased that the story was covered by specialist titles Nursing Times and National Health Executive.

Robertson concluded: "We need the attention to keep general awareness of NHS fraud high, to deter other potential offenders, to inspire NHS local counter-fraud specialists across England and Wales and, above all, to drive up the reporting of suspected fraud to our Fraud and Corruption Reporting Line – 0800 028 4060.

"The value of successful enforcement activity is principally the deterrence effect it has on potential white-collar criminals."

Guys and St Thomas’ Trust was contacted but declined to comment.

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