NHS boss jailed for fraud for 'massaging' accounts to meet government targets

Last updated at 15:18 27 March 2008

NHS fraud

Sentenced: Philip Neal was jailed for 12 months after admitting four counts of fraud

A former finance director of a National Health Service trust has been jailed for 12 months for 'massaging' accounts in order to meet Government targets.

Philip Neal, 44, who was also deputy chief executive of Mid Essex Hospital Services Trust, was told he will serve half the term after he admitted four charges of forgery.

Neal, of Chelmsford, Essex, was caught after he faked official valuation reports related to the sale of trust-owned land and properties.

The forgeries made it appear the trust was in a much stronger financial position that it actually was. Deficits of about £10million were eventually uncovered.

At the time, the trust had been set targets of achieving a £1million surplus for the financial year beginning 2005.

But Judge Anthony Goldstaub, QC, told Neal 'not to despair' as he still had an opportunity to rebuild his life after his bout of 'creative' accountancy.

Sentencing him at Chelmsford Crown Court, the judge said: 'It is difficult to exaggerate the importance and value of trust in public life.

'The public has to be able to rely on its leaders, if not to get things right, then at least to report as accurately as they can and in a reliable way what has been happening.

'You created a financial illusion greatly damaging that concept of trust and you did so from a high position in an NHS Trust.'

Although the judge said Neal's actions were not entirely motivated for personal financial gain, they were partly carried out to enable him to 'shine' as a financial manager.

Neal received a pay rise of just £2,500 to his £100,000 per year job by meeting the targets, the court heard.

'In financial terms, for you and your family, this has been a catastrophe,' the judge added.

'I bear in mind that you were working had at the time of the offences and you were under pressure and working long hours.

'In the end, I'm afraid the matter is too serious to be dealt with without a term of immediate imprisonment. The next six months will be very hard for you.

'I ask you not to despair - you can still rebuild your life.'

Had the fraud not been discovered, Neal would have been credited with resolving the trust's financial issues, the court heard.

Paul Cavin, defending, said Neal had not 'trousered any money himself' and he was under great pressure from above to balance the books.

After the hearing, Alan McGill, of the NHS Counter Fraud Service, who led the investigation, said: 'Neal seriously abused his senior position within the trust by forging important financial documents which were used to try to dupe the external auditors into believing that the trust's financial position was much better than it was.

'Had Neal's criminal misbehaviour not been discovered, he would have been given credit for a positive financial outcome that was based on deception.

'Fraudsters like Neal cannot get away with this.' Mr McGill thanked the former chief executive and chairman of the trust for their full co-operation during the investigation.

He said they were determined to send out the message to staff that dishonesty would not be tolerated, no matter the position held by an employee.

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