A man who “grossly exaggerated” the effects of negligent hospital treatment – claiming £837,000 when he had been offered £30,000 – was last week sentenced to three months in jail in the first contempt of court case brought by an NHS foundation trust.
Mr Justice Spencer said the senior courts had made it clear “that those who make false claims and get caught must expect to go to prison”.
He continued: “There is no other way to underline the gravity of such conduct to those who attempt to make such claims. There is no other way to improve the administration of justice.”
In 2008, Sandip Singh Atwal was injured in an attack and went to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. He was treated for fractures to the index finger of his right hand and the ring finger of his left hand, and a laceration to his lower lip.
Spencer J said that Atwal had “a perfectly good claim for damages” in respect of negligent hospital treatment: “You were left with some deformity of your right hand and some stiffness and loss of power in the left hand. The negligent treatment of the lip had merely delayed recovery by a matter of a few weeks.
“You undoubtedly had some modest disability from the finger injuries for a short time but you grossly exaggerated the continuing effects of the injuries in a thoroughly dishonest way.”
In 2011, when notified of the prospective claim, Calderdale & Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust immediately made what the judge called “a realistic offer of settlement, £30,000. That was, if anything, a generous offer”.
Atwal instead sought £837,000 in damages, maintaining that he was unable to drive, unable to lift, unable to pursue his career as a DJ, that his earning capacity was seriously reduced, and that he required help from his family in managing day-to-day tasks.
National law firm Hempsons, acting for the trust, commissioned covert video surveillance that exposed Atwal working and lifting heavy items, using his phone and driving with ease. His social media posts also showed him working as a DJ.
At last week’s sentencing hearing, which followed his finding in April that 14 allegations of contempt were proved, the judge said: “My firm and clear conclusion is that a sentence of immediate custody is necessary to mark these serious contempts, and to deter others. I am satisfied that appropriate punishment can only be achieved by an immediate custodial sentence…
“It is to be hoped that the sentence will not mean that you and your wife lose your tenancy, but I make no such assumption. You will probably lose your current employment.
“Those, I am afraid, are just the sort of consequences which dishonesty of this kind leads to for those who are caught and brought to book. Let it be a warning to all.”
Atwal was also ordered to pay £75,000 in costs.
Helen Vernon, chief executive of NHS Resolution said: “The decision sends a very clear message that the NHS is not an easy target and that you cannot submit fraudulent claims with impunity.”