Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland health fraud 'costs up to £250m'

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Media captionHealth Minister Edwin Poots said fraud affected everyone

Fraud could be costing the Northern Ireland health service up to £250m per year.

Investigators say they are dealing with a range of offences, from people obtaining fraudulent prescriptions to consultants claiming unworked hours.

To combat the problem, the Department of Health is launching a major counter fraud campaign for the month of October.

Health Minister Edwin Poots said fraud affected everyone.

"Fraud is not a faceless crime, especially in the health service, it affects every one of us," he said.

"It is a criminal offence and every penny lost to fraud means less to spend on front-line services. Whether it's £1 or £1m, fraud robs the health service of vital resources."

Investigators are looking at a wide range of activities. This includes the situation where people living in the Republic of Ireland falsely claim to be living in Northern Ireland in order to secure free health services.

Those falsifying hours worked on a timesheet or claiming extra miles for petrol will also be investigated.

Among the more serious crimes are bribery and corruption or money laundering.

Independent research suggests a potential level of fraud at between 3% to 7% across the NHS.

The £250m figure is the worst case scenario.

Between 2012 and 2013, about 100 cases were investigated leading to a number of criminal prosecutions and money recovered.

"Taking the highest possible figure, that equates to almost a quarter of a billion out of a total health and social care budget of around £4bn, which is not available to invest in front-line services," Mr Poots said.

Officials said the money could be much better spent - it would pay for 38,525 hip replacements or fund a new wing for a hospital.

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