A DOCTOR has walked free from court despite stealing £62,000 from the NHS by altering hundreds of patients’ records.

Dr Thirumurugan Sundaresan, of Park Road, Helmshore, was given a nine-month suspended prison sentence after admitting falsifying the records of 1,703 patients to hit targets, and increase payments from the NHS to his GP practice.

He was also ordered to pay £50,000 towards the costs of the NHS investigation, by Minshull Street Crown Court, in Manchester.

Dr Sundaresan was a partner at East Street Surgery, in Rochdale, when he defrauded the money from the then Heywood, Middleton & Rochdale Primary Care Trust (PCT).

In just three days, between March 21 and March 24, 2008, he manipulated the practice’s patient records system more than 7,000 times in order to hit Quality and Outcomes Framework financial targets from the PCT, the court heard.

He falsely claimed for patient checks he had not carried out, including digital retinopathy checks, which can save diabetic patients from going blind, investigators said.

The unusual pattern of the practice’s output raised suspicions and led to a fraud investigation supp-orted by NHS Protect.

Dr Sundaresan’s prison sentence was suspended for 18 months, but Pauline Smith, anti-fraud spec-ialist for the North West, said the sentence was still a good result for the investigation team.

She added: “NHS Protect worked closely with the local counter fraud specialist to obtain this successful result. We always push for the strongest possible sanctions for offenders.

“Dr Sundaresan defrauded NHS funds, and could have put the health of patients at risk. Stealing from the NHS is not a victimless crime, as this case proves.”

Dr Sundaresan, who pleaded guilty to two offences under Section 2 and Section 4 of the Fraud Act, is suspended from the Park Road practice and has also been referred to the General Medical Council.

The Quality and Outcomes Framework was introduced in 2004 as part of the General Medical Ser-vices Contract. It is a voluntary incentive scheme for GP practices in the UK, designed to reward them for how well they care for patients.