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Italian courts find 175 doctors and managers guilty of fraud

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7383.243/b (Published 01 February 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:243
  1. Fabio Turone
  1. Milan

    A total of 175 doctors and health managers were found guilty of fraud and corruption in Italy last week, after the country's biggest trial of doctors for embezzlement came to an end. The doctors were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two months to three and a half years, though it is likely that many will avoid imprisonment by appealing against their convictions, a process that can take years.

    The defendants were found guilty of embezzling more than ‡30m (£20m; $32m) from the country's national health service by ordering expensive tests and diagnostic investigations, which were either not carried out or were unnecessary.

    The fraud, which was discovered in the late 1990s by a police officer in Milan who turned down a bribe of £100 000 to keep silent, was run by radiologist Professor Giuseppe Poggi Longostrevi. Professor Longostrevi, who owned a private centre for nuclear medicine, committed suicide in September 2000, after his role in the fraud came to light.

    The system of fraud was simple. Professor Longostrevi's clinic claimed reimbursement from the health service for each investigation ordered by the network of corrupt GPs, even when the investigation was not needed or was not performed. The referring doctor did not ask for the results and received expensive gifts or cash—‡25 to ‡50, according to the kind of examination requested, plus 15% of the sum reimbursed by the public system to the clinic.

    “Given the total lack of controls, we didn't even need to corrupt many people,” Professor Longostrevi had explained.

    This point led to a controversial decision by the court. Since the regional health authorities were considered responsible for a lack of vigilance, the judge awarded them only 50% of the damages that they suffered. The ministry of health will, however, be re-imbursed in full. The money was recovered from Professor Longostrevi's Swiss bank accounts.

    It is not yet clear whether and when the Milan Medical Board will suspend or cancel the doctors' licences to practice, as requested by the court. Replying to a specific question by a member of parliament, minister of health Girolamo Sirchia said that the ministry will make sure that the board will take all steps, including cancelling the doctors' registration with the board, when the verdicts are definitive.

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