I have a question for all my readers: have you stopped defrauding the NHS yet?
Well, come on, it’s a simple question. Health secretary Matt Hancock is clear that “the NHS is no longer an easy target” and that stealing from it will now bring consequences. So I ask again: have you stopped defrauding the NHS or not?
The fallacy of this highly offensive and patently stupid question is obvious, of course, and yet it is being asked of us in the recent announcements that pharmacy is being targeted for a crackdown on fraud. The apparent evidence for this presumption of guilt is that huge sums of money within the global sum must mean us ethical and dedicated health professionals can’t possibly resist the temptation of seeing all that easy cash go by without dipping our fingers in the till.
It’s not like we’ve had it easy the last few years; the pharmacy cuts have seen me take a 20% cut in pay. We’ve had to cut staff so all work longer hours, we’ve postponed maintenance and refits on the pharmacy, and recently we’ve had to manage the fiasco of flu vaccine allocation – something else we’re being blamed for.
Yet throughout this we have had to maintain our high standards of patient care to support a desperately underfunded NHS and consequently disenfranchised patients. And now, having been stabbed in the back with swingeing clawbacks for supposed overpayments, we’re being slapped in the face by being presumed guilty until proven innocent of fraud. Two years on from the government’s stated objective of closing 3,000 pharmacies, they’ve only achieved 5% of that, so this must be where they hope to close the other 95%, through threats, stress and intimidation.
I am not so naïve to think that there’s no fraud in pharmacy. It’s a sad part of human nature that a small number of us are criminal enough or stupid enough to take what is not ours, and so every business has policies to address and deter theft by staff. But you can’t engender honesty and productivity within an organisation through constant inquisition.
And what about the fraud perpetrated upon us? My contract says I’ll be reimbursed for the drugs that I dispense, but this doesn’t happen. Despite full knowledge of the inflated prices we must pay for numerous generics, the drug tariff and inadequate price concessions mean NHS England is knowingly stealing hundreds of pounds from me every month.
So, let me ask the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England: are any of your staff fiddling their self-assessment tax returns? And to Mr Hancock: are MPs still over-claiming their parliamentary expenses? After all, if we’re going to allocate guilt on the basis of prevalence, I believe the number of fraudulent MPs revealed only a few years ago suggests there’s much greater likelihood politicians are committing the very offence that they are so quick to glibly chuck in our direction.
A long-running C+D contributor, the identity of Xrayser remains a mystery, but his irreverent views are known by all. Tweet him @Xrayser
Read C+D’s exclusive investigation into the evidence – or lack of it – behind the government’s accusations of pharmacy fraud.