Doctors under fire for fraud and deception

Doctors under fire for fraud and deception

In less than a week, several doctors up and down the country have hit the headlines for frauds involving millions of euros, fictitious patients, stolen medication and bogus companies. In Lisbon, Beja and Aveiro, court cases are ongoing, while unrest within the medical profession continues to spiral. As the Algarve’s public hospitals health administration (Centro Hospitalar do Algarve) wrestles to kick local services into shape, hospital boss Pedro Nunes goes on record saying: “When an administration upsets interests that have become entrenched, it is very good for the public.”
The first to receive publicity was a multi-million euro fraud case involving six doctors, including one Colombian who used to work out of Portimão’s state hospital. Also implicated are two pharmaceutical operatives and two chemists. The fraudulent scheme was uncovered recently by the Polícia Judiciária (PJ) in collaboration with serious crime squad DCIAP, and involved 33 busts in homes and consulting rooms in Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and the Algarve.
Dubbed “Consulta Vicentina”, its name referred to the fact that four of the chemists involved were centred in the Costa Vicentina region of the Algarve, reports Correio da Manhã.
The system was simple: doctors would prescribe expensive medication that was heavily subsidised by the state and ‘purchased’ by fictitious patients. The unscrupulous medics would then share the proceeds with chemists and pharmaceutical suppliers, while the medication itself was sold off abroad on the black market, “at elevated prices”.
Now facing charges of falsifying documentation, fraud, corruption and criminal association, the 10 men and women involved are all likely to be remanded in custody for the duration of the trial, which began last week.
This is just one of many allegations of ongoing fraud within the beleaguered state health system, writes Correio da Manhã, adding that PJ investigators contend that evidence uncovered so far in the ‘Consulta Vicentina’ points to a fraud netting over €100 million.

High-earning doctors

Elsewhere, the newspaper reported last weekend on the mushrooming incidents of high-earning ‘turbodoctors’ who play the system month-by-month, claiming multiple salaries and making a fortune.
The ‘turbo’ medics can net as much as €47,000 a month and work as many as five jobs within the health system at once, writes the newspaper.
Included in the scandal are cases of doctors putting in for “extra work” which they actually perform during their normal work hours.
All this at a time when a financially struggling population appear to be condemned to a national health system that is becoming less and less accessible, with numerous reports of long waiting times at public hospitals (see story on page 2).
Giving details of the extent of state doctors’ scams, CM publicises a case in Beja, where health inspectors have discovered three ophthalmologists and one orthopaedic surgeon who between them have netted over €500,000 for “additional surgeries” that were in fact done during regular shifts.
Health minister Paulo Macedo is now expected to demand that all public hospitals present a detailed list of the working hours and wages of every one of their professionals. The loophole comes as there is no up-to-date register of doctors’ hours. Thus it appears to be commonplace for doctors to work at the same place under at least two different names – one their own, and the other in the name of a single-owned company. The ruse sees them pocket two different salaries for exactly the same job, it is reported.
Talking to lawyer Ricardo Sá Fernandes, CM asked why so many public servants seem to be on the take. Fernandes’ answer was simple: “Complacency.”
Complacency affects “everything”, he said. “Even the justice system. It comes from the judges, the Public Prosecutor, lawyers. It is not that they themselves are corrupt per se, but they are complacent. They do not see the fight against corruption as a priority.”
Sá Fernandes intimated that the media is also far too complacent. The lawyer continued: “In general, there is great passivity” in attitudes over corruption in Portugal.
The economic crisis, scrutiny from the troika and the ongoing fight against tax fraud seem at last to be making some headway however.
Health service administrators throughout the country have been instructed to be on the lookout for high-earners, and have come up with a list of 50 doctors found to be receiving between €23,000 and €47,000 a month, reveals Correio da Manhã.
Topping the list is a gastroenterologist in Lisbon who in November last year received €47,498 for just one month’s work.
Meantime, another trial is poised to start in Aveiro involving a former hospital director alleged to have defrauded the health system out of more than €166,000 for bogus admissions. The scam is believed to have involved claiming for patients who were never admitted, but treated instead as out-patients. The doctor involved is apparently contesting the charges, but she will be up against former hospital directors who acted as whistleblowers. The case is due to be heard in March.

Algarve case

And finally, we have the case of a GP-turned-councillor in Portimão who is back in his white coat despite facing serious corruption charges.
Luís Carito, the disgraced Portimão councillor who hit the headlines for eating documental evidence when his house was raided by the fraud squad, has been allowed back to work as a GP, writes Correio da Manhã newspaper.
Carito, who has been under house arrest since the authorities cracked down on irregularities at the council-owned firm Portimão Urbis, is still technically under house arrest and has to continue wearing an electronic bracelet while he attends patients at Portimão’s Centro de Saúde.
He began taking consultations last week, said the newspaper, and the GP has to advise the authorities on the times that he leaves home and arrives at work.
The former politician, who was ex-Mayor Manuel da Luz’s right-hand man and vice-president, isn’t the first facing corruption charges regarding Portimão Urbis to skip house arrest. Former colleague Jorge Campos has also returned to work, at EDP, but both men have been banned from exercising public office by Judge Carlos Alexandre who is overseeing the case, adds Correio da Manhã.

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