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Operating theatre fraudsters ordered to repay £650,000

Criminals charged NHS for thousands of hours of work that was never carried out

Mark Gould

Monday, 28 November 2016

Four operating theatre technicians who defrauded the NHS have been ordered to repay £650,000 or face extended jail sentences.

The four worked at Basildon Hospital’s Cardio Thoracic Centre as perfusionists – specialist operating theatre technicians. They worked the machinery to keep patients’ hearts and lungs functioning while they underwent major surgery such as heart bypasses.

They were also the directors of a private company, London Perfusion Science Ltd (LPS), a vehicle they used to work privately and profitably at numerous other NHS hospitals at times they were already being paid to work at Basildon Hospital. They only worked 55% of their contracted hours at Basildon and the court determined that they had failed to work 14,000 hours they had been paid for.

LPS provided perfusion services to Hammersmith and St Mary’s hospitals (Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust), John Radcliffe Hospital (Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust), St George’s Hospital, Tooting (St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust), King’s College Hospital (King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust), The Heart Hospital (University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) and also to the London Independent Hospital.

Ringleader John Mulholland, an expert in his field who has published papers in international journals, assembled the whole perfusionist team to work at Basildon Hospital. From the outset, he pushed for a larger perfusion team than was required for the work of the unit and immediately began to use the staff to undertake private work at other hospitals. None of the four notified Basildon NHS Trust of the conflict of interest that clearly arose from their directorships of LPS.

Junior members of staff were instructed by Mulholland to work at other hospital sites but were never paid a penny by LPS. Instead, Mulholland signed off for them to be paid up to 30 hours a month extra, from the NHS’s budget, as "emergency call out work".

Mulholland was sentenced in 2014 to three years’ imprisonment at Basildon Crown Court on Friday. His co-conspirators Ann Clements, Tom Cumberland and Martin Oliver were each sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.

In his final ruling under POCA (Proceeds of Crime Act), Judge Owen-Jones ordered that the NHS must be compensated a total of £519,539.51. In addition, £59,000 must be paid to the Treasury. Mulholland was also ordered to pay £75,000 in costs to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The grand total they must pay back is £650,000. Unless they pay up within six months, Mulholland will face a default jail sentence of another 21 months in prison. The default sentence for the other three will be 18 months each.

The trial was notorious for the colourful language uncovered by investigators in emails between the fraudsters, revelling in their scheme, which they wrongly assumed the NHS would never uncover. At one point they were like euphoric gamblers after a big win, with Mulholland deriding Basildon Hospital, his official place of work, as “Bas Vegas”.

Sue Frith, Managing Director of NHS Protect, said today: "John Mulholland and his associates have tried their utmost to avoid returning any of what they stole to the NHS. Our investigators did not rest on their laurels after putting them behind bars, but worked tirelessly to get back as much public money as they could. The message is clear: defrauding the NHS results not only in criminal records. The career and financial consequences can be very severe.”

“All suspicions of fraud reported to NHS Protect will be followed up, and investigated wherever appropriate. We press for the prosecution of offenders and seek the strongest possible sanctions".

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