The NHS will investigate general practices after it emerged that as much as £88 million a year is wasted on ‘ghost patients’.
The figure accounts for around 1% of the general practice budget. Records show there were 3.6 million more patients in the system last year than there were people in England. The NHS Counter Fraud Authority will now investigate what it calls ‘anomalies.’
‘By preventing fraud, by identifying it and tackling it effectively where it occurs, and by seeking to recover moneys lost to fraud we can ensure that precious NHS funds are used for their intended purpose of patient care,’ said NHS fraud chief Susan Frith.
However, some have suggested a more innocent explanation than fraud, with many practices patients who have died or emigrated.
‘The insinuation that GPs – some of the most trusted professionals in society - are complicit in defrauding the health service is shocking and will be incredibly hurtful for hard-working GPs and their teams who are struggling to deliver care to more than a million patients a day across the country, with insufficient time, resources or workforce to do so,’ said Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs.
‘It is, of course, important to make sure that patient lists are kept as up-to-date as possible, so that resources are used where they are most needed – and our administrative staff already spend a lot of time processing patients' notes when we are informed that they have died, left the surgery or moved elsewhere. But so-called ‘ghost patients’ are nothing sinister - they are the result of a records management issue, not a case of surgeries deliberately profiting by keeping patients on their lists when they shouldn't be there. People's circumstances, and therefore, our records, change all the time. Some practices, particularly in inner-city areas, have quite a high rate of turnover, and patients don't always tell us if they are moving on. It’s just an inevitable consequence of having a list in the first place.’