Lancashire doctor found guilty of £24k NHS fraud

Royal Preston Hospital
Royal Preston Hospital
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A hospital doctor has pleaded guilty to defrauding the NHS of nearly £24,000.

John Coffey, of Goose Lane, Chipping, worked as a consultant radiologist at the Royal Preston Hospital, 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.

When we identified an anomaly in the financial claims made by Mr Coffey our counter-fraud specialists immediately undertook a thorough investigation, and subsequently referred the matter to the police

But the already highly-paid 53-year-old cooked up an audacious plan for an unearned, unapproved bonus at the taxpayers’ expense. He was eventually caught out after the hospital noticed an anomaly in his financial claims.

Sue Frith, managing director of NHS Protect, said: “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.”

Previously, when asked by management, Coffey 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, he completed most of it within his normal working hours.

The scam involved him lining up almost-completed reports after working on them earlier in the day and waiting 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, Coffey reviewed and reported on 100 plain film x-rays during a session when he was supposed to be doing his normal job plan work, resulting in 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.

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 5pm, it was not his fault if he was “efficient”.

Karen Swindley, workforce and education director of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We take extremely seriously our responsibilities to ensure public money is spent wisely and in accordance with the law and with our policies.

“Our robust systems and practices enable us to identify and immediately investigate any potential fraudulent activity within our organisation.

“When we identified an anomaly in the financial claims made by Mr Coffey our counter-fraud specialists immediately undertook a thorough investigation, and subsequently referred the matter to the police.

“Whilst this was ongoing Mr Coffey resigned from his position and we can confirm he no longer works at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals.”

Ms Frith added: “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.”

Coffey was investigated by Local Counter Fraud Specialists Claire Smallman and Simon Regan, with support from the national level counter-fraud body, NHS Protect.

He pleaded guilty at Preston Crown Court and is due to be sentenced at the same court on March 3.

The defrauded amount has been recovered in full.