Rishi Sunak refused to give NHS extra funds to stop ‘health tourism’ scammers

Rishi Sunak’s Treasury vetoed extra funds to target fraudulent “health tourism” and other scammers targeting the NHS, The Telegraph can reveal.

A “very modest” request for additional resources to tackle fraud in the health service was rejected, sources have said, with the ex-chancellor accused of being “completely blind” to the issue.

It is estimated that in England alone, the NHS is vulnerable to more than £1.2 billion of fraud each year.

It comes in a number of forms, including corruption in procurement, staff stealing from the service through false accounting and criminals wrongfully obtaining prescription medicine to sell on.

According to the NHS Counter Fraud Authority, one of the top four areas of fraud by referrals received in 2021-22 was overseas visitors accessing free hospital care for which they are not entitled.

The NHS Counter Fraud Authority has estimated that at least £39.3 million could be vulnerable to this type of fraud – enough to cover the cost of about 6,550 NHS knee replacements.

A recent report from the authority warned of “the possibility that as travel resumes to pre-pandemic levels fraudulent access may see an increase in reporting”.

‘Classic example of short-sightedness’

Sources have told The Telegraph that the Department of Health and Social Care requested a “very modest sum of money” from the Treasury to boost counter-fraud in last year’s Spending Review.

The bid covered £6.5 million over three years for additional counter-fraud work and £11 million over three years to support the efforts of individual NHS trusts.

However, the health service received “not a penny of that”.

One Whitehall source said that they believed the bid could have raised “10 times as much as it cost”. 

The source added: “The Treasury could have saved the taxpayer a hell of a lot of money if it had been willing to spend a little bit up front. It was a classic example of the short-sightedness we have seen over the past couple of years.”

It is understood that a separate request by the Cabinet Office for extra resources to combat fraud was also “rejected outright”.

Last week, this newspaper revealed that the Government is set to fall short of a target to recoup £1 billion lost to fraud and error on Covid support schemes.

Another source familiar with discussions in the Spending Review said there had been money “thrown” at HM Revenue and Customs for fraud prevention, “but nothing provided elsewhere”.

Pointing the finger specifically at Mr Sunak, they said: “He was completely blind to all this.”

In his tilt at the Conservative leadership, the ex-chancellor has put cutting NHS waste at the centre of his health policies – including a pledge to charge people £10 for missed GP and hospital appointments.

A government spokesman said that “firm action” was being taken to “clamp down on fraud, including investing in counter-fraud expertise to help protect every pound of taxpayers’ money”.

The spokesman said that in the Spending Review, the Government had continued to fund the NHS Counter Fraud Authority to “tackle fraud which takes taxpayers’ money away from patient care,” as part of a Department of Health and Social Care settlement worth £177.4 billion in 2024-25.

The spokesman added: “At Spring Statement 2022, HM Treasury announced nearly £50 million of additional funding for counter-fraud work across government, notably through the establishment of the Public Sector Fraud Authority.”

Separately, allies of Boris Johnson have told The Telegraph that it was Downing Street’s intention to cut VAT on energy bills to ease the cost of living crisis earlier this year, but the plan was consistently blocked by Mr Sunak.

Since leaving the Treasury last month and launching his leadership campaign, Mr Sunak has announced he now does support a VAT cut if the energy price cap exceeds £3,000 as expected next month.

In an apparent swipe at the ex-chancellor, Mr Johnson subsequently declared at an event in Birmingham that cutting VAT on household fuel bills “turns out to be easier than we thought”.

A spokesman for Mr Sunak’s campaign said: “Cutting VAT alone back in spring would not have provided nearly enough support for those on low or middle incomes, given the size of the energy price cap rise.”


About the author

Related Post

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *