FRAUDSTERS are costing the NHS up to £900,000 a year – by pretending they are exempt from patient charges at dentists and opticians.
The fly-by-nights pretend they are on benefits to take advantage of dental care – leaving a gaping black hole in NHS coffers which could be spent on needy people.
Experts believe that last year, the NHS would have made seven per cent more in dental charges, had patients not lied, including by saying they were on benefits or pregnant.
Fraud rates across opticians are believed to be at above four per cent, with non UK-based visitors to Scotland not entitled to free eye exams, while locals receive help with glasses or lenses if they meet certain criteria.
In the 2012-13 financial year, NHS Lothian recovered £50,000 from those who wrongly claimed free treatment, meaning the vast majority got away with their crime.
Across Scotland, up to £6.5 million worth of treatment and equipment is being claimed fraudulently, according to figures from NHS Counter Fraud Services.
MSP Jackson Carlaw, health spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said allowing fraud to go unpunished or unrecovered “undermines the savings going on across the NHS in Scotland”.
He said: “It’s alarming that such a small figure has been recovered. Surely if the NHS can identify £6.5m of fraud, they must have a rough idea where that money went.
“I hope the Scottish Government provides health boards with all the support they need on clamping down on this. Those who wittingly defraud the NHS are utterly contemptible, and must be punished severely.”
Complex calculations were used to come up with the figures, with a sample of cases investigated, and the findings used to come up with estimates for the full health service.
Some claims were conclusively found to be fraud, while others were written off, for example because a patient died or could not be traced. These may have been genuine.
In Lothian, the amount of cash believed to have been lost as a result of dishonest dental or eye patients rose by 30 per cent in 2012 compared with 2011, but remained lower than the 2010 and 2009 totals.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman described fraud against the NHS as “unacceptable”. She said: “Whether committed by staff, patients, clinicians or contractors, NHS fraud takes money away from where it’s most needed.”
Carol Potter, associate director of finance at NHS Lothian, said: “People who defraud the NHS are taking valuable resources away from key healthcare services and this will not be tolerated.”
Pharmacist admits con
A PHARMACIST who registered 40 patients without their knowledge or permission at a Livingston chemist was fined £340 after admitting fraud yesterday.
Stephen Andrew Brown, 39, from Howden, cheated the NHS out of £200 with the con.
Gordon Young, head of Counter Fraud Services, said Brown had “blatantly abused his position of trust”.
He added: “Any fraud against the NHS which abuses the trust of the public will be pursued.”