Headlines: December 7th, 1999

Defrauding local councils, health authorities and NHS Trusts is not difficult in some areas. The Audit Commission, the public spending watchdog, found that there is often no focus on fraud prevention, a weak anti-fraud culture and few meaningful deterrents.More fraud was detected last year than ever before. Fraud in local government was up 18% and exceeded 100m pounds for the first time. Most of this relates to Benefit fraud and in one in eight councils either council staff or councillors were involved in committing fraud. In the NHS, fraud has almost doubled in the past year from 2.6m pounds in 1997/98 to 4.7m pounds in 1998/99. Some 3m pounds of this fraud involved GPs, dentists, opticians and pharmacists.

There is concern that despite this significant growth, fraud detection performance has been extremely varied. Over two-thirds of health authorities and three quarters of trusts reported no instance of detected fraud and corruption. A lack of focus on fraud can be deduced from a number of indicators. Four out of five councils do not prosecute Benefit fraudsters. One quarter of councils, a third of health authorities and almost half of NHS trusts still do not have a designated police contact. The Public Interest Disclosure Act provides for the protection of whistle-blowers, but almost 40% of health bodies and 50% of councils have no policies in place to use the Act.

Link www.audit-commission.gov.uk