Essex health chief jailed for fraud

THE former finance director of an Essex health trust has been sentenced to 12 months in prison for “massaging” its accounts in order to meet NHS targets.

Elliot Furniss

THE former finance director of an Essex health trust has been sentenced to 12 months in prison for “massaging” its accounts in order to meet NHS targets.

Philip Neal, 44, who was also deputy chief executive of the Mid Essex Hospital Services Trust, was told he would serve half of the term after pleading guilty to four counts of forgery.

Neal, of Billers Chase, Chelmsford, was caught out after he faked official valuation reports that related to the sale of Trust owned land and properties.

The forgeries made it appear that the Trust was in a much stronger financial position than was actually the case at a time when the NHS had set it a target of achieving a £1million surplus for the financial year 2005/06.

Sentencing at Chelmsford Crown Court yesterday, Judge Anthony Goldstaub QC told Neal “not to despair” as he still had an opportunity to rebuild his life after his bout of “creative” accountancy.

Most Read

He said: “It is difficult to exaggerate the importance and value of trust in public life. The public has to be able to rely on its leaders if not to get things right but at least to report as accurately as they can and in a reliable way what has been happening.

“You created a financial illusion greatly damaging that concept of trust and you did so from a high position in an NHS Trust.”

He said that although the actions were not entirely motivated for personal financial gain - Neal was handed a £2,500 rise to his £100,000 per year job for his perceived success - they were partly carried out to enable him to “shine” as a financial manager.

The judge added: “In financial terms, for you and your family, this has been a catastrophe. I bear in mind that you were working hard at the time of the offences and you were under pressure and working long hours.

“In the end, I'm afraid the matter is too serious to be dealt with without a term of immediate imprisonment. The next six months will be very hard for you. I ask you not to despair - you can still rebuild your life.”

Had the fraud not been discovered, Neal would have been credited with resolving the Trust's financial issues, when in fact deficits to the tune of about £10million were eventually uncovered.

Paul Cavin, defending, said Neal had not “trousered any money himself” and that he was under great pressure from above to “balance the books”.

After the hearing, Alan McGill of the NHS Counter Fraud Service, who led the investigation, said Neal “seriously abused” his senior position.

“Had Neal's criminal misbehaviour not been discovered he would have been given credit for a positive financial outcome that was based on deception,” he said.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter