The NHS has suffered a great deal of scrutiny recently – as the service tries to battle with public sector cuts and increasing demand from patients, it must now respond to the latest blow: the cost of fraud in the NHS. A BBC Panorama programme which aired last month revealed that NHS fraud and error is ‘costing the UK £7 billion a year’. The last thing the service needs is to lose money to fraud and error when the pressure to save and cut costs has never been higher.
Given that the biggest areas of fraud are found to be payroll and procurement budgets, we must focus on these processes to determine where the faults can be fixed. Payroll fraud can happen in a number of ways: some examples include employees claiming overtime for hours not worked, false expense reimbursement claims and lastly, unauthorised changes to an organisation’s payroll systems (such as an employee adding ghost employees to the payroll who either do not exist or do not work for the organisation).
A report from the National Fraud Authority echoes this and states that payroll fraud costs the public sector £335 million a year. In reality, the figure is probably even higher– not all payroll fraud is accounted for because it can go unnoticed with unreliable systems in place. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case.
Many parts of the NHS still rely on “weak data” to run their payroll and workforce management systems, rather than leveraging real-time data to show staff availability and validate that rosters are being worked as planned.Yet, the latter is important not only for accurate shift allocation, but even more so for patient safety. For example, a recent report from the London School of Economics and Policy Analysis Centre shows that even an inaccuracy of 0.09% in the NHS payroll equates the cost of the employment of up to 2,000 additional nurses!
In order to eliminate payroll fraud, NHS leaders and staff need to embrace the latest Time and Attendance (T&A) systems and integrate them with payroll. The London School of Economics and Policy Analysis Centre report supports this by voicing potential savings of £71.5million from the use of T&A systems in the NHS.
For this vision to become a reality, the image of industrial-style “clocking-in” systems must be scrapped. Modern self-service biometrics terminals allow staff to quickly, easily and securely record their activity, thereby ensuring accurate payroll and preventing fraud occurring. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) issued guidance earlier this year, describing good quality data as “the cornerstone of effective staff planning and review”. Now, when the topic of fraud arises, NHS leaders must remember that good quality data and reliable systems will be the answer for prevention.