• NHS Protect called in to investigate suspicious documents
  • Court notice served to reclaim almost £89,000 under Proceeds of Crime Act
  • Managing director says NHS can “ill afford” exploitation for personal gain

The NHS’s anti-fraud organisation has launched a bid to reclaim almost £89,000 from a mature student who invented children to claim nursing bursaries.

Eleanor Bonde admitted three charges of fraud to obtain places on nursing courses between 2001 and 2012.

The court heard Ms Bonde used three fake Zimbabwean passports and invented two dependent children to claim £88,804 in bursaries to study at Brighton, Surrey and Anglia Ruskin universities.

NHS Protect has served a notice in court requiring Ms Bonde to list all assets to try to recover the money – which would be enough to pay the wages of four newly qualified nurses for a year.

Sue Frith, managing director of NHS Protect and interim chief executive of the NHS Counter Fraud Authority, said: “Fraud against the NHS takes valuable resources out of the system, ultimately diverting money from patient care.

“In this case, a lot of public money has gone to waste to train and support someone who was well aware she was not eligible for the courses, the course funding or the bursaries.

“The NHS can ill afford to be exploited in this way for personal gain.”

The legal battle to reclaim the money is part of NHS Protect’s role to recover cash for the health service.

In the year to March 2016, it confiscated more than £2.4m under the Proceeds of Crime Act while investigating allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption worth more than £25m.

The government stopped bursaries for student nurses and midwives this year, which the Department of Health says will free up £800m a year to create additional nursing roles. NHS Protect is still handling fraud cases that pre-date the decision to scrap bursaries.

NHS Protect was called in by the UK Border Agency after suspicions were raised by one of the universities about Ms Bonde’s documents.

Enquiries, led by senior fraud investigator Alex Tan, revealed Ms Bonde had made three applications to nursing courses between 2001 and 2012, presenting false identification documents for enrolment at Anglia Ruskin and Brighton.

She failed each of the three courses partway through and never qualified as a nurse.

Efforts to track down Ms Bonde began in 2013 and she was arrested by Surrey Police in September 2015.

Appearing at Guildford Crown Court on 26 June, she admitted obtaining £21,858 in course fees and bursary payments by deception from the NHS between April 2004 and February 2007.

She pleaded guilty to using three false passports to deceive staff at the East of England Strategic Health Authority.

Ms Bonde also admitted fraud by claiming forged documents were genuine to qualify for course fees and bursary payments on behalf of her and her two made up dependent children.

She was sentenced to 15 months in prison, suspended for two years.