Company owner selling ‘miracle cure’ has £1.4m assets seized

 

A convicted fugitive faces the confiscation of £1.4 million in prime assets by the Crown, following a hearing at Southwark Crown Court.

 

It means that David Noakes, who has been convicted of money laundering and the manufacture and sale of unlicensed medicines, will face the seizure of his aircraft, boat, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce and UK and Guernsey bank accounts.

 

The outcome follows a four-year investigation by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which was assisted by the London Regional Asset Recovery Team (RART) in investigating Noakes’s complex financial dealings.

 

Noakes, the owner of Guernsey-based Immuno Biotech, served a 15-month prison sentence from November 2018 after pleading guilty to 4 charges relating to the manufacture, sale and supply of an unlicensed medicine (GcMAF), and one count of money laundering.

 

Globulin component Macrophage Activating Factor (GcMAF) was a product made from human blood, sold by a Guernsey-based company called Immuno Biotech, headed by Noakes.

 

Noakes advertised GcMAF as a ‘miracle cure’ for a range of conditions including cancer, HIV and autism, with no scientific basis to support these medicinal claims. The court heard Noakes made over £13 million from the sale of GcMAF between 2011 and 2015.

 

GcMAF was sold through various European websites which UK buyers would have had no difficulty accessing. Production was stopped in January 2015, as a result of the MHRA’s investigation, and a seizure of more than 10,000 vials took place, which Noakes could have sold for £5.5 million. The MHRA also issued a warning to the public against purchasing GcMAF.

 

The £1,349,400.48 confiscation order means that the identified assets will be realised and paid to the Home Office for distribution under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) 2002 incentivisation scheme.

 

MHRA Head of Enforcement, Andy Morling, said:

 

“Today’s confiscation marks the successful conclusion of a complex, four-year investigation by the MHRA Enforcement Group.

 

“Our investigation team has worked relentlessly to bring David Noakes and his associates to justice and today’s decision to deny him the proceeds of his criminality is welcome. Noakes put public health at risk through the unlicensed manufacturing and sale of GcMAF products, which were not fit for human consumption or for use as medicines.

 

“To get the best advice in relation to your health, visit your GP or other health professionals, get a correct diagnosis and always buy medicines from a legitimate high street or registered pharmacy.

 

“To stay safe when buying medicines online, always buy from a registered website. Avoid dodgy online providers, suspicious URLs and beware of unrealistic claims which can expose you to unlicensed medicines, or even identity theft and fraud.

 

“Patient safety is our highest priority and we will continue to track, prosecute and remove assets from criminals who exploit public health for their own gain.”

 

This article is being shared under the Open Government Copyright licence.

 

 

Man arrested after 500 fake COVID-19 tests allegedly sold online

 

A Birmingham man has been arrested for allegedly selling fake coronavirus testing kits on the dark and open webs, as part of the National Crime Agency’s response against criminals trying to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The 38-year-old, who was arrested at his home in the city’s Jewellery Quarter, was taken into custody yesterday for alleged offences under the Fraud Act 2006. He is believed to have sold the kits to customers in the UK and the United States.

 

A property was searched in Edgbaston, Birmingham, where suspected fake COVID-19 testing kits were found. A 36-year-old being sought in connection with selling kits was not present, and officers are urging him to come forward.

 

Healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, have been urged to report cases of fake testing kits via the Yellow Card Scheme or by emailing the MHRA directly. Healthcare professionals are also asked to report any website or social media post offering these types of products.

 

Matt Horne, Deputy Director of Investigations at the NCA, said:

 

“Anyone thinking of trying to profit from the public’s fears about the pandemic should take note of this arrest. Bringing offenders to justice and ceasing their activities is a key priority across law enforcement, the NCA will target criminals who pose a risk to our collective effort to tackle the pandemic.

 

“We are investigating a number of reports on the sale of counterfeit products relating to Covid-19, and will continue to work with partners to protect the public.”

 

Ben Russell, Deputy Director of the National Economic Crime Centre, said:

 

“We know that criminals are trying to turn the pandemic to their advantage, but there are things you can do to help stay safe. Be even more cautious than usual when shopping online and always follow the Take Five To Stop Fraud advice: Stop, Challenge & Protect. If you believe you are a victim, please report it to your bank and Action Fraud immediately.

 

“We are working together across law enforcement, the government and private sector to protect the public and combat these offenders.”

 

Andy Morling, Head of Enforcement at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, said:

 

“We work closely with the National Crime Agency and other law enforcement agencies to protect public health and prevent unlicensed medicines and non-compliant medical devices getting into circulation.

 

“No COVID-19 antibody self-testing kits have received CE mark status and there are no such testing kits available in the UK for home use. It is also illegal to supply these self-test kits for use by members of the public in the UK.

 

“Products that have not been tested to ensure they meet standards of safety, performance and quality cannot be guaranteed and this poses a risk to individuals’ health.

 

“We urge the public and healthcare professionals to report to us via our Yellow Card Scheme any website or social media post offering to sell these types of products.

 

“Always make sure you are buying your medicines from a registered pharmacy or website and your medical devices from reputable retailers.”

 

James Mancuso, from Homeland Security Investigations, said:

 

“We commend our National Crime Agency partners for their swift response during this global crisis.  Homeland Security Investigations remains committed to our international partners in maintaining public safety, and holding persons attempting to profit in these uncertain times, accountable for their criminal and dangerous acts.

 

“Despite widespread illness and deaths caused by COVID-19, individuals and organizations operating around the globe are actively seeking to exploit and profit from the pandemic.

 

“From financial fraud schemes targeting vulnerable populations, to the importation of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, to websites defrauding consumers, these illicit activities compromise legitimate trade and financial systems, threaten the integrity of international borders, and endanger the safety and security of the public.

 

“Utilising its unique and expansive authorities, strategic footprint and partnerships worldwide, and robust cyber capabilities, HSI is conducting Operation Stolen Promise to protect the public from the increasing and evolving threat posed by COVID-19-related fraud and criminal activity.”

 

 

NHS to take a firmer approach to deter prescription fraud

 

NHS England and NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) are now starting to take a firmer approach to deter fraud.

 

In early 2018, NHSBSA started trialling an approach with people who have received five or more penalty charge notices (PCNs) in a 12-month period but had made no attempt to pay. Selected repeat offenders are now interviewed under caution at a police station and to date, NHSBSA has submitted five cases to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider for criminal proceedings. NHSBSA began a debt collection process for dental cases in January 2019 and is seeking approval for one for prescriptions.

 

NHSBSA is developing a system to reduce the likelihood of fraud or error occurring in the first place by allowing pharmacists and dentists to check peoples’ eligibility for benefit-related exemptions at the time the transaction occurs. A pilot is underway, in four pharmacies, to check health exemptions in real-time, which if successful, could significantly reduce the amount of fraud and error that occurs, and therefore the number of PCNs NHSBSA needs to issue.

 

The NHS estimates that it lost around £212 million in 2017-18 from people incorrectly claiming exemption from prescription and dental charges. However, rules around entitlement are overly complicated leading to genuine mistakes and confusion for many people, according to the National Audit Office.

 

Each year, the NHS dispenses around 1.1 billion prescription items in the community and undertakes around 39 million courses of dental treatment. Around 89% of prescription items dispensed and around 47% of dental treatments are claimed as exempt from charges. NHSBSA administers the distribution of PCNs to those who, either fraudulently or in error, have claimed a free prescription or dental treatment when they were not entitled to do so; or have a valid exemption which cannot be confirmed at the time of checking.

 

Recently, there has been a significant increase in the exemption checks and the total value of PCNs issued. For example, the number of prescription checks has risen from 750,000 in 2014-15 to 24 million by 2018-19. Over the same period, while the number and value of prescription PCNs have risen, the proportion of checks resulting in PCNs has been declining. In 2014-15, one in four checks resulted in a PCN, compared with one in 20 checks by 2018-19. Over this period the value of PCNs issued has risen from £12 million to £126 million per year for prescriptions and from £38 million to £72 million per year for dental treatments.

 

Since 2014, NHSBSA has managed the distribution of 5.6 million PCNs with a total value of £676 million. Of these £133 million (20%) were collected, £297 million (44%) were resolved without a penalty charge being paid, and £246 million (36%) remain outstanding.

 

Since 2014, around 1.7 million PCNs, 30% of those issued, with a value of £188 million, have been issued but subsequently withdrawn because a valid exemption was confirmed to be in place following a challenge. PCNs might also be cancelled where the claimant cannot be identified and located based on the details provided on the prescription or dental form. The penalty charge element of the PCN might also be removed following communication with the individual concerned, although the cost of the prescription or dental treatment will remain payable.

 

NHSBSA spent £11.2 million (31 pence per £1 recovered) in 2017-18 on managing the PCN process. This cost, which includes the cost of the Capita service provided to NHSBSA (Capita manages part of the dental checking service), is covered by the income generated by PCNs, with the surplus paid to NHS England. The NHS Counter Fraud Authority has acknowledged that NHSBSA’s work led to a £49 million reduction in prescription fraud from £217 million in 2012-13 to £168 million in 2016-17.

 

Between September 2014 and March 2019, 114,725 people have received five or more PCNs for prescriptions, indicating a pattern of incorrect claims. However, until recently NHSBSA had taken no action against these people. The NHS Counter Fraud Authority said in 2019 that the focus of NHSBSA’s PCN strategy had been on recovery of losses and charges from penalty notices.

 

NHSBSA accepts that the rules around entitlement, which are set by the Department of Health & Social Care, are complicated and recognises that genuine mistakes and confusion happen.

 

There are a number of factors which may cause mistakes and confusion. These include Universal Credit where claimants are only eligible for exemptions if their monthly earnings are below a specified level; and prescription forms that do not yet include Universal Credit as an option. Confusion can also arise where people need to understand the difference between benefits. For example, a claimant who receives income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance is automatically eligible for free prescriptions and dental treatment, whereas a claimant who receives new-style Jobseeker’s Allowance or contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance is not. Furthermore, a person’s eligibility for exemption may vary between prescriptions and dental treatments. Also in some circumstances, such as pregnancy, the person must apply for an exemption certificate to obtain free prescriptions. The length of time that exemptions apply varies according to the circumstances.

 

NHSBSA is unable to identify all vulnerable people in advance of issuing a PCN but will try to limit the impact where such people are later identified. This arrangement relies on the vulnerable person challenging the PCN, and not all vulnerable people may feel able to do so.

 

NHSBSA has only recently undertaken its first national advertising campaign to inform people about PCNs even though it has been significantly increasing its checks since 2014. It also began to develop online support tools to help people determine whether they are eligible for free prescriptions and dental treatment in 2017.

 

Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said today:

 

“Free prescriptions and dental treatment are a significant cost to the NHS, so it is reasonable to reclaim funds from people who are not exempt from charges and deter fraud. However, the NHS also needs to have due regard to people who simply fall foul of the confusing eligibility rules.  It is not a good sign that so many penalty charge notices are successfully challenged.

 

Chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England Sandra Gidley said:

 

“The National Audit Office has highlighted some important issues around prescription charge fines. It is important that we protect every single NHS pound so it can be spent on caring for the public. Pharmacists understand and support this. However, the NAO identifies there’s plenty of room for improvement and the current system is too complicated and bureaucratic. The system needs to be simplified before we start to criminalise those that make a genuine mistake navigating it.

 

“Pharmacists should not be the prescription police – they want to spend their time helping people with their medicines rather than checking their exemption status. It would be much simpler to have free prescriptions for everyone, as is the case in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland because then no-one would have to worry about filling out a form of declaration. They would always have the medicines required, without having to make payment decisions.  It would also enable the investment in issuing and monitoring penalty charge notices to be spent on patient care.

 

“The consequences of the relentless rise in prescription charges are well-known. Surveys* show that 1 in 3 people have not collected their prescription because of the cost. If you can’t afford your medicines, you become iller, which leads to poor health and expensive and unnecessary hospital admissions.

 

“Every day pharmacists are asked by patients who are unable to afford all the items their prescription which ones they could ‘do without’.  Patients shouldn’t have to make choices which involve rationing their medicines. No-one should be faced with a financial barrier to getting the medicines they need.”