Playing with public money — another reason for GPs to pay close attention to practice finances
The recent judgment of a GP jailed for gambling away practice money
A General Practitioner has been sentenced at Portsmouth Crown Court for three years and four months. Dr Rumi Chhapia stole more than £1m from a healthcare group set up by 16 GP practices in Portsmouth to fund his gambling addiction.
Dr Rumi Chhapia co-founded Portsmouth Primary Care Alliance (PPCA) which consisted of 16 GP surgeries in the city with the aim of supporting them to work more collaboratively to improve local healthcare services this being very much in line with the direction of travel for healthcare service delivery. Dr Chhapia volunteered to be director and manage the group accounts after, a staff member, who oversaw the group’s finances was signed off on sick leave.
Fortunately, said staff member kept a ‘watching brief’ over the finances and noted that the group account had been reduced by £600,000. Upon being confronted, Dr Chhapia alleged to be the victim of cybercrime. However, it was clear that the monies had been transferred into accounts in his own name.
Dr Chhapia gambled away a total of £2.5m, from 20 August 2020 to 30 September 2020. The fraud has left the group’s finances in disarray with some directors requiring therapy after struggling to come to terms with Dr Chhapia’s actions amidst the unprecedented pressure on GPs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon realisation of his actions, Dr Chhapia resigned from his role in October last year and later admitted fraud by abuse of position.
Reaching his judgment, it was concluded that Dr Chhapia had abused the trust placed on him and took £1.3m from the PPCA, money which in his judgment should have been for GP surgeries to develop their services. It was also concluded that Dr Chhapia’s duties should have been to provide the very best care to his patients and that should have been the pinnacle, but he was dishonest.
Fortunately, the gambling companies have agreed to return £904,000 of the NHS money Dr Chhapia spent with them, in what the court heard was a 'very unusual' move after the doctor wrote letters to the companies explaining what had happened. If this were to happen in other scenarios, practices may not find the same gesture forthcoming. Dr Chhapia put forward arguments regarding mitigation, including his financial and personal circumstances, which had been compounded by COVID-19. He was sentenced to three years and four months imprisonment.
This recent story only goes to reinforce the need for General Practitioners to maintain a keen eye on practices’ financial circumstances. The doctor in question was a founder of the practice concerned and clearly a very senior member, but his seniority might have shielded him from greater scrutiny. Where public funds are in play, no one can be above oversight. It seems that the dogged diligence of the practice’s Finance Manager, was what brought concerns to light. And whilst this might be interpreted as an example of the system working, it is not. He was on sick leave and clearly went above and beyond in the circumstances. This diligence can neither be relied upon nor taken for granted. Members of any practice must accept the vital part they play in ensuring not only excellent service, but rigorous financial hygiene. Taking advice early will very often pay significant dividends and avoid catastrophic situations from developing. In addition, a practice needs to ensure it has a clear framework in place to deal with a situation involving this kind of activity by a partner.
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