• Mersey Care victim of “sophisticated” incident involving £900,000 invoice
  • Counter Fraud Authority investigating

An investigation has been launched into a suspected fraud in which almost £1m has been stolen from a top mental health trust, HSJ has learned.

Mersey Care Foundation Trust said it is working with the NHS Counter Fraud Authority following a “sophisticated” incident which happened last month. HSJ understands it involved an invoice payment of around £900,000.

The trust confirmed the incident in a statement, saying it had “been the victim of fraud which has led to the theft of significant funds by external third parties”.

Chief executive Joe Rafferty added: “The trust continues to work closely with the NHS Counter Fraud Authority to recover funds where possible and to ensure that we and others learn from what has been a sophisticated approach to defrauding the trust.

“For someone to possibly target the trust in this manner is a malicious attempt to undermine our efforts to provide high quality mental health and community care to all of our service users.

“Mersey Care prides itself on its responsible financial practices and its sound corporate governance and will work tirelessly with the NHS Counter Fraud Agency to help identify and catch the people responsible for this fraudulent activity.”

A spokeswoman for the NHSCFA said: “A matter has been referred to the NHS Counter Fraud Authority. We are unable to comment further at this time.”

The number of reported fraud cases against the NHS has been rising, with NHSCFA (previously named NHS Protect) estimating the annual costs at around £1.25bn.

Last year, HSJ obtained a police report which raised concerns over the capacity and capabilities of national and local counter fraud teams.

The NHSCFA’s budget has been cut in cash terms since 2011, and in 2017-18 it employed around 40 fewer staff members. In 2010-11 the budget was around £11m, and there were around 190 staff, and in 2017-18 the budget was around £10m, with around 150 staff.

A training centre for local counter fraud teams was also closed last year, which the police report said would “have a major impact on the ability to develop and deliver learning programmes… and the maintenance of investigation standards”.