The severe impact on healthcare provision caused by a £22m financial black hole has been laid bare in damning evidence by a former NHS boss.
Patients in Croydon known to be at high risk of stroke or heart disease are no longer invited to screenings, and patients seeking surgeries for problems such as disfigurement are being turned down by Croydon Primary Care Trust (PCT) because of its need to claw back a £22m overspend, according to its former director of public health, Dr Peter Brambleby.
His evidence was given at a cross-council inquiry into how the PCT was found to have a £22.7m budget deficit for the financial year 2010-11 following a review in June last year, despite reporting a £5m surplus.
He rubbished previous claims by the PCT that healthcare would not have been affected by the financial mess at the trust.
In the same session the chief executive of the South West London NHS cluster containing Croydon PCT Ann Radmore admitted the mis-accounting that led to the massive overspend being missed by external and internal auditors, the audit committee and herself was a “deliberate act”.
Despite this she said no one had been dismissed as a result of the findings, nor had anyone been disciplined. Councillor Bill Roots, a member of the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee hearing the inquiry, described the lack of direct accountability as “unbelievable”.
Dr Peter Brambleby, employed by both Croydon PCT and Croydon Council between February 2010 and February 2012, launched an attack on his former employers and rubbished the conclusions of an independent review into how the £22.7m black hole went unnoticed.
Reporting to the joint committee established to investigate the causes and ramifications of the error, Dr Brambleby said the conclusions of a review by Ernst and Young published in May that no one was to blame and patients were not affected were wrong, and called the review a “whitewash”.
He said: “The central conclusions, that there was no one individual who was responsible and that care to patients was not impacted, I completely reject.”
He stated even if the lost millions were spent on healthcare, with no record of where the money was spent it could have been wasted on failing NHS trusts, procedures proven to not be cost effective, or on unnecessary commissioning of services from external specialists.
Dr Brambleby said: “I have a direct example. The health check programme was curtailed.
It was a national programme proven to be efficient and cost effective, but is not happening because there is not the budget available.”
He explained this meant patients known to be at high risk of stroke or heart disease were no longer being invited to screenings, and added those seeking non-emergency surgeries were being turned down due to a lack of funds.
He said: “I have seen the tears that could have been avoided.”
Dr Brambleby also savaged the conclusion that no one was to blame.
He said: “I don’t agree with the statement no one is liable. The report talks of mis-accounting, misreporting and deletion of emails. To me that is lying.
“Who is accountable? The officer for finance and the organisation as a whole. All the corporate directors of the PCT including myself. I am not proud of the work I did and that is why I resigned.”
He said he was the only senior manager at the time to resign his post.
Dr Brambleby claimed, through calls to senior managers still working for NHS South West London, he had evidence practices of covering up problems and falsifying figures remain within the cluster.
He said: “I am confident it will happen again. They have confessed they have made up data.”
His evidence was preceded by an interrogation of the chief executive Mrs Radmore.
Mrs Radmore was responsible for signing off the accounts for 2010-11.
She took up her post in February 2011, a month before the end of the financial year.
She said while the financial cover-up was a deliberate act, it was not for personal gain by whoever was responsible.
A spokesman for NHS South West London said: “Professor Mike Spyer, chairman of NHS London, has written to Dr Brambleby to respond to his concerns directly.
“The report makes it clear mistakes were made, but found this was not entirely the fault or responsibility of any individuals and importantly that there was no personal gain.
“We acted quickly to get to the bottom of the issue, with a full and independent review in the public interest.”