12 Dec 2016

Benefit fraud nurse is struck off

A community nurse raked in more than £15,000 from the council by not telling them she was working extra shifts.

Beverley Forrest did not tell Brighton & Hove council that she was employed as both a senior staff nurse and bank nurse in the community with Sussex Community NHS Trust. She claimed housing benefit from 14 November 2011 until her entitlement was withdrawn on 12 January 2014 following an investigation into her earnings.

Forrest had one dependent child living with her on 14 November 2011, the Nursing and Midwifery Council heard.

Her entitlement to housing benefit was assessed on the income she declared and the information provided by her on three separate housing benefit forms which were signed by her although completed by council emergency placement officers.

The sections in the forms which asked about overtime and whether Forrest had more than one job were left blank on each form.

Notification letters were sent to Forrest explaining how her housing benefit had been calculated. She was reminded on each notification letter to check that the details of her claim were correct and to notify any change in circumstances.

A National Fraud Initiative identified that Forrest’s earnings had not been updated for over a 52 week period. Copies of wage slips which were obtained from her employer showed that she had failed to notify Brighton and Hove Council of her bank nurse work.

Forrest’s claim was recalculated and an overpayment of £15,273.26 was identified. It was discovered that during the period of the overpayment, Forrest had worked both as a band 5 staff nurse and a band 6 staff nurse.

Forrest attended an interview under caution on 11 February 2014. She stated that in retrospect she should have declared her bank work, but at the time she did not think she needed to because it was not regular employment.

Forrest had worked at the trust for more than 20 years.

She pleaded not guilty at Brighton Magistrates Court to three charges of dishonestly making a statement or representation that she knew to be false which she knew would affect her entitlement to a benefit but she was convicted of all three charges on 2 March 2015.

She was sentenced to a Community Order to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work within 12 months. She also had to pay a victim surcharge of £60 and costs amounting to £2440. The original Community Order was then revoked due to Forrest’s ill health and another order was imposed on 22 July 2015 with a curfew for 30 days.

Now an NMC panel has decided her fitness to practice is currently impaired and she was struck off the nursing register.

Panel chair Helen Potts said:
The panel takes a very serious view of Mrs Forrest’s three criminal convictions for dishonestly making a statement or representation that she knew to be false and which she knew would affect her entitlement to a benefit. Such offences involved prolonged and inherent dishonesty on the part of Mrs Forrest.

The panel noted that she had been sent notification letters as a reminder to check that the details of her claim were correct and to notify any change in circumstances. Despite having the opportunity to do so, she persisted in falsely claiming housing benefit for which she was not entitled for a period of over two years. The panel concluded that the serious and prolonged nature of Mrs Forrest’s dishonesty leading to her convictions, has seriously undermined the trust placed in her as a registered nurse.

Having taken into account all the documentary evidence before, the panel has determined that the only appropriate and proportionate sanction which would be sufficient to protect the public and the wider public interest is that of a striking-off order. The panel considered that this order was necessary to mark the importance of maintaining public confidence in the profession, and to send to the public and the profession a clear message about the standards and behaviour expected of a registered nurse.

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