The NHS has been a highly respected public institution since its founding in 1948, symbolising the post-war consensus of the UK’s welfare state.. Such is the sanctity and esteem in which it is held in by the British population, that it has been described by some as the country’s new “national religion”.
Indeed, former Conservative Chancellor Nigel Lawson once said that “the NHS is the closest thing the English people have now to a religion’. As a result, a case in which someone tried to defraud the organisation is always likely to provoke the ire of the nation and the courts.
29-year-old Holly White had suffered from the spinal disease CES since her late teens. However, she knowingly exaggerated her injuries because of alleged NHS negligence in her pursuit of a £4m claim against North Bristol NHS Trust. Following her initial claim, the details were investigated on behalf of the trust by NHS Resolution, who brought forward contempt action against White. She has subsequently been jailed for 6 months for contempt of court.
Continue reading to find out more about the details of the case and why the judge decided that sending the woman to prison was the right decision.
White’s initial £4m claim against the NHS was struck out in 2019 following the revelation of video surveillance by the Trust which showed that while White claimed that she could only walk around 10 to 15 steps without the use of an elbow crutch, owing to what she claimed was NHS negligence, this was contradicted by the video evidence.
The evidence which the Trust gathered over a period of 2 weeks showed Miss White walking normally without any assistance, driving for 40 miles without stopping and even driving for 18 miles to attend a party. She also walked around stores without any apparent limp, slowness or disability.
On reviewing the footage, Miss White’s consultant neurosurgeon, Mr Todd, described Miss White’s previous statements to him as “deliberately misleading”. He warned that “unfortunately this brings the whole of Miss White’s evidence into question”. He then went on to say:
“as a Doctor I rely on patients giving me accurate information. If I find there has been deliberate misrepresentation in respect of walking I now have to question how much of what I was told in respect of other symptoms can be relied upon.”
Following the revelation of the footage, in February 2019 White propose to the Trust to have the claim dismissed with no costs for either side, something which was refused by the Trust. The claim by White was subsequently struck out by the court, with White ordered to pay £45,000 in interim payments – unlikely to ever be repaid.
North Bristol NHS Trust vs White
The Trust issued a claim form in February 2020, which set out allegations of contempt of court against White. Permission was then granted for the claim against Miss White in June 2021, after being delayed by the Covid pandemic.
While White claimed that the delay should lead to a refusal of permission, the High Court judge disagreed and granted permission for the claim.
The court found that White had made false statements to a total of four experts between May 2018 and January 2019 who were reporting to the High Court on her physical condition. These false statements had an estimated value of £1m gross according to the court findings. The court also found that White continued to propagate lies about her state of mobility in order to increase the damages she might have been awarded by the Court.
In considering whether the sentence should be suspended, the judge took into account a range of factors in accordance with sentencing guidelines. The powers granted in CPR rule 81 9 and the Contempt of Court Act 1981 gave the Court the power to impose imprisonment, either immediate or suspended, for a maximum of 2 years; a fine, either on its own or in combination with imprisonment; the confiscation of assets; and any other punishment permitted by law.
- In particular, the judge found that the individual presented a risk to the public purse and public institutions owing to their clinical negligence claim against a taxpayer funded organisation (the NHS).
- The judge also considered that the individual has a poor history of compliance with court orders and rules relating to statements of truth in her clinical negligence claim.
- There was no past record of rehabilitation or indeed potential for rehabilitation in the interaction with state funded organisations in the judge’s view.
- While the claimant did have a son, the judge argued that despite immediate custody having an adverse impact on her son, the impact would be ameliorated by the loving relationship between the son, his father and his grandmother.
The judge decided to send the defendant to prison immediately, stating that: “suspending the sentence will not get the message across to you sufficiently strongly that: defrauding the NHS, which is funded by the taxpayer is utterly unacceptable. Nor would it send out the right message to those currently suing NHS trusts or those who will do so in future.”
White was subsequently sentenced for 6 months, with entitlement to release after serving half of the sentence.
Commenting on the result, Helen Vernon, chief executive of NHS Resolution, said: ‘NHS Resolution does not take decisions lightly to commence committal proceedings, however, given the extent of the damages sought by the claimant in this case, it was felt this was appropriate action. This is a stark reminder to potential claimants in clinical negligence matters of the need to remain honest as to the extent of the damage and losses incurred.’
This particular case is unlikely to find many supportive of the defendant (Miss White) as once the facts were laid out, the extent of the fraudulence involved was fairly clear cut. The fraudulence and persistent lying to both the court as well as medical professionals in the pursuit of a substantial sum left the judge with little choice in passing the 6-month prison sentence, which has the intended aim of acting as a deterrent to potential fraudsters.
This case demonstrates the lengths to which extreme litigation fraud can go. Although in most cases it does not lead to fraudsters being sentenced, the Court does frequently strike out, whole or part, the relevant claims and make wasted costs against the relevant persons/parties. Whenever such thing happens, it will be open to the victims of such acts or their legal representatives to apply for remedies immediately.
Of course, genuine claimants for personal injury compensation should not be put off by this case, something stressed by NHS Resolution following the outcome of the trial.
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