Fraud investigations in the NHS have increased by 37 per cent in the last three years, according to official figures.
The NHS Counter Fraud Service revealed that the amount of potential fraud detected and probed rose amid the economic downturn, from 351 in 2007/08 to 415 in 2008/09 and reached 482 in 2009/10.
The value of the fraud and unlawful action identified was £4.1 million in 2007/08, £16.2 million a year later and £10.9 million in 2009/10.
Although the types of fraud was varied "timesheet fraud", which included staff claiming money for shifts they did not work, was a recurrent offense. It also involves employees working in unauthorised roles while on sick leave.
Other problems highlighted by the research were patients falsely claiming exemptions or using aliases to obtain drugs, contractors exaggerating records of NHS work and professionals creating "ghost patients" or altering prescriptions.
Allan Carter, head of operations at NHS Counter Fraud Service, told The Times: "Undoubtedly in times of recession people will look to maximise their opportunities. And when you look at the case numbers it might seem that way."
He said the service had recovered more than £65 million to date.
Investigators looked into one case that involved a former NHS manage falsifying invoices totalling £200,000 to fund the running of her stud farm business.
Louise Tomkins, 48, of Faygate, West Sussex, was jailed for two years and nine months for the offence in June 2010 at Southwark Crown Court.
The court heard she fraudulently signed off NHS payments running to £201,333.27 to fund the upkeep of thoroughbreds and pay for horse semen, breaching the trust of her employers.
From April this year, the NHS Counter Fraud Service's anti-fraud functions which cannot be undertaken locally will be carried out by NHS Protect.
It is envisaged that the new body will provide guidance and assistance to local NHS bodies.
Copyright © Press Association 2011