A dentist who committed what investigators believe is one of the largest frauds in NHS history has been jailed for four years.
David Heppleston claimed £450,000 from the health service over an eight-and-a-half year period, York Crown Court heard.
The 45-year-old widower, who in 2002 won £64,000 on the TV quiz show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’, admitted 15 fraud charges at an earlier hearing and asked the judge to take into account a further 85 offences of obtaining money transfers by deception.
Heppleston, who ran a surgery in Scarborough, created false patients to claim the extra cash and added further treatments which his existing patients never received.
Recorder of York Paul Hoffman QC said Heppleston had effectively claimed £50,000 a year over the period, tax free. ‘In my view it was motivated by greed’, the judge said. ‘It has all gone. Absolutely nothing has been recovered.
‘We hope this will send a strong message to anyone who thinks that the NHS can be defrauded for personal gain. It was sophisticated but also blatant. This represented a gross breach of trust to the paying authority to whom you owed a duty of scrupulous honesty.’
The court heard that Heppleston’s wife had unexpectedly died last year and he was left to bring up his eight-year-old son alone.
His barrister, Taryn Turner, said her client was a ‘popular and talented’ dentist but had brought disgrace to himself and his family, and would never work in the industry again. Ms Turner appealed to the judge not to jail Heppleston as an ‘act of compassion’ to his little boy.
Judge Hoffman said he had ‘enormous sympathy’ for Heppleston’s circumstances but said professionals needed to be competent as well as ‘scrupulously honest’ and custody was his only option.
Heppleston qualified in 1984 and had practised in Scarborough since 1986. Suspicions were raised because he claimed to have fitted an abnormally high number of crowns and precious metal work on patients.
Following the case, Stephen McKenzie, of the NHS Counter Fraud Service, said: ‘Heppleston let down both the NHS and the patients whose care he was charged with. Over a period of time he defrauded huge sums of money that were intended for patient care.
‘This was not only a betrayal of the people of Scarborough and the majority of honest, hard-working dentists, but of the NHS itself. We hope this conviction will send a strong message to anyone who thinks that the NHS can be defrauded for personal gain – you risk your career, livelihood and liberty.’