Millions of pounds of NHS cash is allocated to 'ghosts'

GPs' record keeping is in question...
GPs' record keeping is in question...

Up to £1.5 million of NHS cash could go to fund non-existent ‘ghost’ patients on GP registers in North Lincolnshire over the next financial year, research has shown.

So-called ‘ghost’ patients on GPs’ books - who may be dead, or have left the area, are a major headache for the NHS.

And doctors’ surgeries in North Lincolnshire have thousands of such patients registered, according to analysis of NHS figures.

Money allocated to surgeries is linked to the number of patients on their books.

The most recent estimate for the population of North Lincolnshire CCG, which is in charge of commissioning healthcare services in the area, is 170,786 - but there were 179,509 patients registered with GP surgeries in the area last month.

So up to 8,720 of these could be ghost patients, around 4.9 per cent of all those registered.

The Office for National Statistics last updated its population estimates in 2016, so population growth may account for some ghost patients. But analysis of ONS figures shows that, between 2011 and 2016, the population grew by 0.4 per cent each year on average, so it is unlikely this accounts for all extra patients.

Allocated funding is weighted to take into account key patient demographics like gender, age and disability.

North Lincolnshire CCG received £30.64 million from the NHS based on the number of registered patients in the 2016-2017 financial year. NHS figures show this was an average amount per patient of £177.58.

The funding formula is revised annually but based on these figures, the CCG would receive around £31.88 million for patients on the register in the coming financial year. But if the population figure was used instead of the patient register it would be £30.33 million.

This means as much as £1.5 million would be allocated to ghost patients.

The health service has found no evidence that doctors are deliberately inflating patient numbers, and blames poor record keeping for the anomaly. In 2012, the Audit Commission removed 95,000 patients from surgeries’ lists. But three years ago, there were up to 756 ghost patients in north Lincolnshire, compared to 8,723 now.