Against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic, fraudulent compensation claims against the NHS appear nothing short of obscene. As a High Court case underlined, perpetrators can expect both financial ruin and, in extreme cases, imprisonment.
The case concerned a woman who suffered injury due to a delay in diagnosing and treating a serious back condition. After she launched a clinical negligence claim, an NHS trust admitted liability and issued a formal apology. It was agreed that, if honestly pursued, her claim would have been worth about £350,000.
She had, however, pitched her claim at a total of over £5.7 million. She grossly and deceitfully exaggerated the extent of her disabilities. She claimed, amongst other things, that she could not walk unaided and that, without the support of walking sticks, she was unable to stand for more than a few seconds. She failed to disclose that she had taken several holidays, at home and abroad, which she apparently enjoyed to the full, without any sign of mobility difficulties.
Surveillance evidence revealed the vast scale of her dishonesty over a period of several years. In her shameless and systematic attempt to pervert the course of civil justice with a view to personal gain, she lied to a total of 13 medical experts on 19 different occasions and signed various sworn statements in the knowledge that they were untrue. Her lawyers were for a long time taken in and wasted large sums of money in helping her to pursue her claim in good faith.
The entirety of her claim was ultimately dismissed on the basis that it was infected by fundamental dishonesty. She was ordered to repay £75,000 that she had previously received from the trust as an interim payment of damages. Given the extreme facts of the case, the trust took the rare step of launching proceedings seeking her committal to prison for contempt of court.
Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that, although her claim was initially genuine, she had lost all hope of compensation. She was in poor health, of previous good character and had a young child to care for. She had admitted contempt and the exposure of her dishonesty had heaped shame and humiliation upon her, which was some punishment in itself. The impact of the pandemic on the prison system had also rendered custodial sentences more onerous.
The Court acknowledged that she had learnt a harsh lesson from the case and that there was no risk of her behaviour being repeated. However, her wrongdoing was so grave that it had to be marked by the imposition of an immediate prison sentence, rather than a suspended term. She was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.