• Lisa Hill and Ian Watson admitted defrauding the NHS of £153,600
  • Judge suspended two year jail term for two years
  • Money was used to train GPs in mental health care

A senior clinical commissioning group manager and clinical lead on its board have avoided being immediately jailed after pleading guilty to defrauding the NHS of £153,600.

Lisa Hill and Ian Walton had admitted raising a false invoice to Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG for GP training from a charity, on whose board they both sat, before diverting the cash into the bank account of a private company they both controlled. Ms Hill and Dr Walton used the money to train 69 GPs in mental health care.

Ms Hill, from Hagley near Stourbridge, was responsible in part for the CCG’s £70m mental health budget. Dr Walton is a GP with a national reputation for mental health excellence and has a practice in Tipton.

Outside the NHS, they both legitimately ran doctor training courses. Both also sat on the board of mental health charity Primhe, which Dr Walton was chair of, and jointly ran Walton Hill Associates. They used the charity to falsely invoice the NHS for the money.

Judge Paul Farrer QC said they had abused their “considerable positions of trust” but accepted they were never motivated by greed, and had instead used most of the money to directly benefit mental health services.

He said it was partly for that reason that he suspended a two year jail term handed down to both Ms Hill and Dr Walton for two years.

Sentencing the pair at Birmingham crown court today, the judge said that in a “misguided desire to improve” services they had decided to defraud the NHS.

He said: “You allowed your passion for mental health services to override both your judgment and honesty.” Such actions could not help but “erode public confidence” in the NHS, he added.

The NHS paid the £153,600 invoice in March 2013, despite the lack of any formal signed authority or a purchase order, in what the judge called “human error and a lack of proper scrutiny” of financial controls within the CCG.

The money had actually been set aside for the NHS “winter pressures” budget, the court had previously heard, and CCG managers “never approved the funding” for GP training.

Both Ms Hill and Dr Walton were arrested and charged at the end of 2015, before pleading guilty to a single count each of fraud last month.