06 February 2017
A Royal Preston Hospital doctor who defrauded the NHS of nearly £24,000 has pleaded guilty to a ‘rolled up’ charge of Fraud by False Representations (Preston Crown Court, 1st February 2017).
Consultant Radiologist John Coffey (53) of Goose Lane, Chipping, Preston, is due to be sentenced on 3rd March at the same court.
The hospital doctor was suspended and then resigned from his well-paid senior role at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust after being caught out. He was investigated by Local Counter Fraud Specialists Claire Smallman and Simon Regan, with support from the national level counter-fraud body, NHS Protect.
As a Consultant Radiologist, he was responsible for reviewing and reporting on a variety of medical scans. He was not contracted to study plain film scans from standard x-rays as part of his job plan. But he agreed to do so at a rate of £4 per film, outside his working hours (after 5pm) to help his department to clear a ‘waiting list’ backlog.
Previously, he had said he was far too busy and without any capacity for any additional duties. However, once extra money was made available for the extra work, Coffey completed most of it within his normal working hours. He effectively claimed himself an unearned, unapproved bonus at the hospital’s – and ultimately the taxpayer’s – expense.
In an audacious yet simple scam, he would line up the almost-completed reports after working on them earlier in the day and wait until 5pm to re-enter the clinical IT system and hit the “submit” button. When later challenged, he tried to argue he had technically completed the work after office hours.
In one day in March 2014, between 11:20am and 5pm, the consultant reviewed and reported on 100 plain film x-rays during a session when he was supposed to be doing his normal job plan work: a £400 loss to the NHS.
The fraud investigation showed this was not a one-off. Coffey was routinely and consistently undertaking ‘after hours’ waiting list work during NHS contracted hours. In just over a year (between Autumn 2013 and Autumn 2014) Coffey’s series of frauds bumped up his earnings by £23,916. This breaks down to £4 each for 5,979 plain film reports he claimed for as ‘waiting list’ work that he actually undertook during his normal working day.
When interviewed under caution, the consultant strenuously denied having been dishonest - but was unable to offer a good reason for entering each x-ray patient’s record once before, and once after, 5pm.
Coffey stated that although he had completed the work during the day, as he hadn’t pressed the submit button until after 17:00hrs, it was not his fault if he was “efficient”.
Sue Frith, Managing Director of NHS Protect, said today:
“John Coffey abused his position of trust as a Consultant Radiologist to defraud the NHS of nearly £24,000. That much could have paid a nurse for a year. He has admitted the crime, and it would not be appropriate for NHS Protect to comment further before sentencing.”
“NHS Protect encourages anybody with a suspicion that fraud against the NHS could be taking place to report their concern. Health workers and the public can do so via the established channels of their Local Counter Fraud Specialist, or via our national Fraud and Corruption Reporting Line. Whether by telephone or online, these reports can be made anonymously.”
The defrauded amount has been recovered in full.
For more information contact James Robertson at the NHS Protect press office on 020 7895 4524. Further information on NHS Protect is at www.nhsprotect.nhs.uk
Notes to Editors
1. To report any incident of suspected fraud in the NHS, please call the Fraud and Corruption Reporting Line - powered by Crimestoppers - on 0800 028 40 60 or report online at www.reportnhsfraud.nhs.uk Both reporting mechanisms include the option to remain anonymous.
2. NHS Protect works closely with NHS Local Counter Fraud Specialists across the NHS in England to ensure that healthcare crime is tackled and a culture of fraud prevention and deterrence is in place.
3. The value of fraud, bribery and corruption identified by NHS Protect and Local Counter Fraud Specialists (LCFSs) following the successful conclusion of investigations in 2015/16 was £6.5 million. Over £2 million was restrained and over £2.4 million confiscated using Proceeds of Crime Act as at 31st March 2016.
4. As at 31 March 2016, NHS Protect was investigating allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption worth in excess of £25 million.
5. There are some 300 professionally-trained and accredited Local Counter Fraud Specialists in place within health bodies across England and Wales.
6. NHS Protect is the operating name of the NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service.