Labour targets created £90,000 NHS smoking fraud
Harry Singer, 54, took advantage of the labour Government’s smoking cessation programme which pays doctors, pharmacists and community groups £45 for every patient they convince to give up for four weeks.
Stop Smoking Counsellor Singer received £89,505 from the NHS for signing people up to programmes to kick the habit. But many of the ‘registrants’ details were taken from other surveys or were friends who either did not smoke at all or had no intention of giving up.
Jailing Singer for 18-months, judge John Hillen said the antismoking scheme was “amateurish” and “cavalier” and blamed the labour Government’s target-driven culture.
“To pay lay people, albeit briefly trained, as stop smoking counsellors for recruiting and spending a few sessions with smokers is an astonishing way to spend public money,” said the judge.
He criticised Kensington and Chelsea Primary Care Trust for operating the scheme without checks which he said was an “extraordinary derogation of responsibility.”
“This was all driven by the need to meet targets and it is a feature of the target-driven culture of the governments of this country that it can lead to the opportunity for fraud,” the judge added.
“Anyone else listening to this case would have been appalled at the cavalier way in which the taxpayers’ money was dealt with by the Kensington and Chelsea Primary Care Trust and the positively amateurish way in which the finance department failed to have any sufficient checks on the money it was paying out on the no smoking service.”
The Primary Care Trust did not suspect the fraud even though Singer was 27 times better than the next best adviser. In just six months he claimed to have convinced 2,017 people to stop smoking, shattering the local target and winning a 2006 nomination for the Stop Smoking Supporter Award.
He received payments in respect of 1,989 people.
But he was eventually caught out when NHS bosses contacted his clients to find out the secret of his success and realised most of the people had never heard of him.
Police described Singer as a “Water Mitty” figure who had recognised the lax regime as an opportunity to print money.
Judge Hillen added: “This was not a sophisticated fraud. I am not going to name names but the public will be very surprised if there have not been resignations over this matter.”
Singer was convicted of 18 specimen false accounting charges between March and October 2006, and one count of concealing criminal property.
Diana Middleditch, Chief Executive of Kensington and Chelsea PCT, said: “The actions of one individual should not detract from the excellent work of the majority of our community advisers, who have a genuine interest in working alongside the local NHS to improve the health of our communities.”
A Department of Health spokesman added: “This year £56m was allocated to the NHS for smoking cessation services. We know that NHS stop smoking services have been hugely effective in helping people quit.”
Health Direct laments the yet again waste of tax payers’ money to hit labour’s NHS targets. This case further undermines any statistics that labour spout for the “success” of this costly project.