National exercise on procurement fraud on hold due to COVID-19

The collection of further information from NHS providers as part of the exercise, which was due to start in May 2020, has been postponed until further notice.

Published: 27/04/2020

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Last year the NHSCFA started a national exercise on the prevention of procurement fraud, to improve our understanding of key areas of fraud risk facing NHS providers and develop guidance to help mitigate the risk. The next phase of the exercise, consisting in a survey to gather information from providers, was due to start in May 2020.

We have been monitoring the developments around the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential impact of gathering information for the national exercise at this time. We are very aware that NHS organisations across the country are facing an unprecedented challenge in responding to COVID-19. We have therefore taken the decision to postpone the collection of information as part of the national exercise until further notice.

We would like to extend our appreciation and thanks to Local Counter Fraud Specialists (LCFSs), and to procurement and finance colleagues at NHS organisations, for their participation and contribution to date on the national exercise.

The exercise so far

During the first phase of the national exercise (May-July 2019), the NHSCFA gathered information from NHS providers on three areas of fraud risk vulnerability: disaggregate spend, contract management, and Purchase Order vs. non-Purchase Order spend. This enabled us to obtain a better picture of the level of scrutiny applied to spend at different stages of the procurement process.

Following the collection of this information, we visited several NHS organisations to meet with Heads of Procurement, Directors of Finance and LCFSs to discuss our initial findings and obtain feedback on the exercise. This engagement was informative and useful.

The second phase of the national exercise saw the launch of eight procurement fraud quick guides on the NHSCFA website. The aim of the quick guides is to alert NHS staff to known fraud risks and provide clear and practical information on effective measures staff and managers can take to identify and stop fraud and improve their own procurement and finance systems.

Next steps

Our plan for the third phase of the exercise, due to run from May to July 2020, was to gather further information from providers on the same areas of procurement fraud risk, and compare it to the data collected last year. This has now been postponed.

Whilst this represents a setback for the project, we are confident that we can still provide NHS providers with useful information from our initial information collection back in May-July 2019. We are currently developing the process for doing this and will be in touch with them shortly with more detail.

The NHSCFA is keen to support the NHS procurement sector as much as we can during this difficult time. We have developed further guidance focusing on COVID-19 related procurement fraud risks and how to mitigate them, which we have published alongside other advice and guidance on emerging fraud risks during the pandemic. If you have any concerns over fraud risks in NHS procurement, or there is any way in which we can support the sector at this time, please do get in touch with us by emailing prevention@nhscfa.gsi.gov.uk.

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We estimate that the NHS is vulnerable to £1.21 billion worth of fraud each year.

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