GPs urged to be vigilant as fraud cases rock practices

After two high-profile cases saw practice managers jailed for stealing six-figure sums, specialist medical accountants have warned GP partners to ensure they are on top of their practice finances throughout the year

This is an edited version of an article first published by GPOnline.

Earlier this year, practice manager Karen Evans was jailed for three years after stealing nearly £700,000 from two GP surgeries in Greater Manchester. This forced doctors out of their jobs.

Meanwhile, practice manager Carolyn Lightwing was jailed for two years after defrauding £600,000 from the surgery she worked for in York.

In response to the cases, the Association of Independent Specialist Medical Accountants (AISMA) warned that accountants are not vigilant in watching for fraud and may only identify it when preparing the end of year accounts – when it is already too late.

AISMA recommended that GPs should keep on top of practice finances throughout the year, rather than merely at the end when they and their practice manager are preparing information to send to their accountant.

AISMA also offered the following advice to GP practices on how to avoid fraud in their guide on the subject:

1. Don’t let any one person be the sole signatory on the bank account for amounts over a set level – for most practices, a sensible figure would be between £500 and £1,000.

2. The person approving the invoices should not be the person making the payments.

3. Invoices should always be reviewed by the person approving the amounts to be paid. Be careful not to approve both the invoice and the statement to create a double payment.

4. The partner responsible for staff should review salary payments before they are made to check for unknown names or unusual payments. In particular, check for unexpected pay increases or overtime.

5. Review your locum payments regularly and investigate unrecognised names. Insist on accounting records disclosing who the locum is covering for, and why.

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6. Have a detailed budget and compare with actual figures monthly, or at least quarterly, to pick up anything unusual. For example, use key ratios to check that drugs costs v reimbursements are on track; drugs, medical consumables and staff wages/locum costs are usually the easiest places to hide fraudulent payments.

7. Use a specialist medical accountant who will break down income and expenses in suitable detail and question movements that seem unusual. If you don’t understand your accounts because there is not enough detail, potential fraud is harder to identify.

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