The practice manager of a GP surgery in Chesterfield, who stole more than £30,000 from her employers by fiddling the monthly figures and writing cheques to herself, was sentenced last week at Derby Crown Court.
Gladys Anne Goddard, 55, received an 18-month sentence, 12 being suspended for two years, with six months allocated as a curfew. She must also do 200 hours community service, is on two months' probation, and must pay compensation of £7,042 and costs of £726 within 28 days.
Mrs Goddard defrauded Tennyson Avenue Surgery in Chesterfield of £30,665.79 in total. She is the second Chesterfield GP practice manager to be convicted of fraud in recent months, after separate investigations by the NHS Counter Fraud Service.
She manipulated the surgery's monthly accounts to show higher payments to suppliers than were actually made, increasing her own monthly salary payments to pocket the difference.
Between December 2006 and September 2008, when the surgery merged with another and Mrs Goddard lost the responsibility for salaries, she overpaid herself £21,592. She also stole eight cheques worth a total of £9,073, which she made payable to herself by forging the partners' signatures.
Her crimes were first spotted by an accountant doing end-of-year accounts, and the NHS Counter Fraud Service was called in to investigate. It found up to £1,000 a month was regularly siphoned off. Surgery partners did not notice because they only saw statements of the correct total monthly BACS figures, not a breakdown of individual payments.
Mrs Goddard entered guilty pleas at her first hearing at Chesterfield Magistrates Court, on 4 February 2010. The surgery took immediate action through the county court and was able to recover £23,623 plus legal fees and interest.
Steve Guillon, East Midlands Operational Fraud Manager, NHS Counter Fraud Service, said: "After two such cases in Chesterfield it should be clear that we will thoroughly investigate any suspicions of fraud in the health service. Wherever appropriate, we will press for prosecution."
The sentencing judge called Mrs Goddard's offences "disgraceful … because suspicion falls on innocent people working with the same surgery. It was a dishonest and devious theft and on the face of it she should be sent to prison."
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"All types of fraud occurs across the NHS, but it is only in recent years that fraud in general practice is being discovered. When you consider the number of PMs in the country, the number of fradusters is negligible. We should not lose sight of the excellent managers who, far from frauding the practices, are so responsible and committed that they give a lot more than they get credit for year in year out with no financial reward" – Anne Care, West Midlands
"I have the same practice as Richard [below]. However, for these people to think that they can get away with it forever are amazing. They have a position of trust – how come the accountant did not pick this up?" – Evelyn Cupit, Surrey
"As a practice manager in Chesterfield, I think the headline is disgraceful; it makes it sound as though all managers in Chesterfield are dishonest and on the fiddle. I do not sign or authorise any payments from the practice bank account, all of which need two partners to sign/authorise, be they cheques or online BACS payments. I always supply invoices to back up the payments which is what should happen in any business. The partners cover thmeselves by having two of them authorise payments. Whilst good accountants would (hopefully) pick up fraudulent activity, they do not in most cases actually do an audit of the payments; they usually just prepare the annual accounts from the records. There is no obligation to have them audited like there is with limited companies" – Richard Burton, Chesterfield
"As an ex banker with 30 years' experience in the banking industry I know it is essential to have two people involved in all matters financial. It is almost impossible to steal if there are two people looking at bills, salaries, etc. The docs left themselves wide open by allowing a PM SOLO access to their money" – Patrick Jordan, East Manchester
"Practice managers having responsibility is part of the job, as is trust in such a busy and ever-changing environment. The bottom line is that she did wrong and has been punished. GPs should try and have a finger in the accounts but this is why they employ someone, because they don't have the time or skill. It just points out how important trust is and how vulnerable surgeries can be" – Abigail Tester, Buckinghamshire
"I am an ex bank manager in my role as a PM now – after 23 in banking I saw many frauds but I agree that many GPs make PMs vunerable to this possibility as not many are really interested in the financials just what they take home. Having said this, I refuse to be a signatory on cheques and all invoices are shown to the two GP signatories who sign them. I feel the accountants are partly to blame if she was able to do this" – Michele Fildes, Burton on Trent
"Make her go on an anti-theft training course and never let her near a GP surgery again. It's disgraceful, we work hard to gain confidence and trust of GPs. It's shocking and I am speechless at such an activity" – Asif Butt, Birmingham
"Gives us all a bad name. But GPs are too trusting and a financial partner should at least do spot checks of all payments on a regular basis. Doesn't say much for their accountant either!" – M Scott, Fife
"I have long thought that GPs should take more of an active interest in their income and expenditure. If someone takes responsibility it not only protects the practice it also protects the practice manager" – Cynthia Jackson, North Tyneside
"This is why practice managers should never sign cheques – there should always be two signatories and one check should be what is being paid against an actual invoice. What were were GPs thinking of giving her such responsbilty and potential to defraud – they must hold themselves equally to blame" – Margaret Hooper, Suffolk