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Former NHS England Equality Lead Paula Vasco-Knight CBE and husband sentenced for NHS fraud

Press release – 10 March 2017

NHS England’s former National Lead for Equality, who was also CEO of Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, Paula Vasco-Knight, and her husband Stephen Vasco-Knight, were sentenced today for fraud against the NHS (Exeter Crown Court, Friday 10 March).

Paula Vasco-Knight was sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 2 years, plus 250 hours of unpaid work. Stephen Vasco-Knight was sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 2 years, plus 150 hours of unpaid work.

This follows a fraud investigation by NHS Protect, the national counter-fraud body. The couple pleaded guilty at the same court on 26 January:

Stephen Vasco-Knight pleaded guilty to one charge of Fraud by False Representation, contrary to sections 1 and 2 of the Fraud Act 2006. His crime was submitting a false invoice for £11,072.00 to South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (SDFT) in November 2013, and then receiving the payment for work that was never commissioned nor undertaken. He was assisted by his wife in submitting the invoice.

Paula Vasco-Knight pleaded guilty to one charge of Fraud by Abuse of Position, contrary to sections 1 and 4 of the Fraud Act 2006. Her crime, back in December 2013, was to authorise the £11,072.00 payment to her husband’s graphic design business ‘Thinking Caps’ for work that was never carried out. Notionally, he was being ‘paid’ to produce a document about Leadership for NHS CEOs.

After the couple found themselves under investigation, the Vasco-Knights tried to retrospectively manufacture a document to justify the payment of the invoice. Entitled ‘Transform’, they presented it in March 2015 at an interview under caution with investigators.

NHS Protect investigators established that the document could not possibly have been produced in November 2013 as stated, as it contained large passages of text copied straight from a bona fide King’s Fund document that wasn’t published until November 2014 - a year later.                                                                                                                       

As part of the investigation a number of laptops, mobile devices and PCs were obtained from South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and NHS England, and examined by NHS Protect’s computer forensics specialists.

Paula Vasco-Knight was employed as Chief Executive Officer of South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust in August 2008. Her additional role as National Lead for Equality at NHS England began in 2012, when it was still known as the NHS Commissioning Board.  She was awarded a CBE for her work on equality and diversity in the NHS in the January 2014 Honours List.

Sue Frith, Managing Director of NHS Protect, which conducted the investigation, said today:

“Paula and Stephen Vasco-Knight defrauded the NHS of money that is meant for the care of patients and which came from the public purse. The vast majority of those working in the NHS are people of the utmost integrity, who will feel extremely let down by these crimes.

“NHS Protect will continue to follow up on every suspicion of fraud reported to us. We will investigate and prosecute wherever appropriate so that offenders can be brought to justice.”

Proceedings will commence to recover the funds lost to the NHS.

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. South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (SDFT) merged with Torbay and Southern Devon Health and Care NHS Trust in October 2015 and is now known as Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust.

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.

7. 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.