The Department of Health plans to establish its own fraud investigation function by poaching senior officers from NHS Protect, shrinking the national body’s size significantly as a result.
Internal papers seen by HSJ revealed that the DH expects the new in-house unit to be up and running within three months. Talks between unions representing staff at NHS Protect about the effect of its slimmed down structure have already begun.
According to the papers, the DH’s new unit will support anti-fraud work within both the department and arm’s length bodies such as NHS England. It will also feed information into a fraud error and debt team in the Cabinet Office.
Under the plans the unit will employ 11 staff, including the current managing director of NHS Protect, Dermid McCausland; its head of policy and standards, Martin Wiles; head of NHS security, Mark Richardson; and its special operations project lead, Patrick Nolan.
Two further posts will be ringfenced for existing NHS Protect staff, while the remaining posts are advertised as DH vacancies.
The papers claimed that the only effect on NHS Protect staff will be a change of pay date and “potentially a change of base (but still within central London)”.
The DH expects NHS Protect to continue with a reduced staff structure from October with the number of senior managers halved from six to three.
The department’s own unit will be tasked with a wider role than the one currently carried out by NHS Protect.
It expects to be given a “horizon scanning” role to help the DH and its agency improve their response to “future cross government anti-fraud requirements”.
This will include an “investigative capacity” for “national, large or complex cases that it is not realistic to expect the NHS to take on”.
It will also cover “non-NHS functions”, the papers stated without specifying what these might include.
The creation of an internal anti-fraud unit in the DH follows its decision to shift the fraud investigation role to NHS Protect in 2003.
The decision to return “certain functions” back in-house aimed to take account of “the context of the new NHS structure”, the papers indicated.
“DH has expressed a wish for the establishment of a small team within DH that has responsibility for anti-fraud work within DH and strategic responsibility for this work across the DH and NHS landscape,” they added.
“People within NHS Protect who currently carry out this work will transfer to the DH with it.”
While the papers do not signal a clear direction for the future of a slimmed down NHS Protect, it stated that the agency will be subject to “some structural changes” and that some staff members will have “revised roles and responsibilities”.
NHS Protect would continue under the umbrella of the NHS Business Services Authority “whilst separate work is undertaken on the longer term options for its organisational placement”, the papers said.
The DH is expecting to make a decision on its future by April 2015.
Keith Blackburn, the NHS Protect officer for the union Unison, said discussions with the DH about the future of the organisation were at an early stage.
“There’s a lot being made about the Health and Social Care Act dictating that the [security] functions have to go to the DH, and the parlour game at the moment is to find where it actually says that [in the act],” he said.
“Our prime concern is to ensure that there’s a continuing, dedicated investment in the security service for the benefits that it brings to the health service and to the public purse.
“It’s a very important service.”
A spokesman for the DH said it would not comment on “leaked documents”.
Meanwhile, NHS England also plans to set up its own counter fraud service, it emerged at its July board meeting.
This will be established with a £1m transfer from its contigency fund.
A spokesman for NHS England said this would not conflict with NHS Protect’s duties because “it does not routinely provide counter fraud services to individual organisations”.