A senior GP was jailed for three years and four months after stealing £1.1million of NHS money to fund his addiction to online gambling.
Dr Rumi Chhapia, 45, from Southsea, stole the funds from a company that oversaw a group of GP practices in Portsmouth.
The money was taken from Portsmouth Primary Care Alliance Limited (PPCA), a collection of GP practices in and around Hampshire city, which was founded by Dr Chhapia, The Daily Mail reported.
According to reports, he stole the money in 65 transfers over a 41-day period in 2020.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard he gambled away a total of £2.5m, of which he regained £1.2m of his losses.
In August last year, Mark Stubbings, who was in charge of PPCA’s finances, was signed off sick and Chhapia volunteered to be director and manage its accounts.
But Stubbings kept a ‘watching brief’ and raised the alarm when he saw its £1m account was reduced by £600,000, prosecutor Matthew Lawson said.
Chhapia was confronted but claimed he was the victim of cybercrime and continued to embezzle money.
He promised no more PPCA money would be transferred, but continued to do so and from August 20 to September 30 last year he embezzled £1,133,704.50, The Mail report added.
Of the £1.13m he embezzled, he paid back £238,000 and gambling companies will pay back £904,000.
All money made by PPCA goes into developing its 16 GP surgeries.
“You abused the trust placed on you and took £1.1 million from the PPCA, money which should have been for GP surgeries to develop their services. This is a very serious abrogation of your responsibilities as a doctor,” Judge Keith Cutler was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
“Your duty as a GP should have been to provide the very best of care to your patients, that should have been the pinnacle of your care, but you were dishonest. You were seduced by your addiction to gambling.”
“The last thing a judge wants to do is to send a man such as you, a doctor with such skills and abilities, to prison,” the Judge added.
Matthew Lawson, prosecuting, told the court that Chhapia, stole a total of £1,133,704.50.
Lawson said: “He made a full confession to taking the money from the PPCA. He had run into financial trouble and tried to repair his finances through online gambling but only proceeded to lose more.”
A statement from the PPCA read to the court said staff had needed counselling and the people of Portsmouth had ‘lost a chunk of NHS money which could have been used to benefit their care’.
According to Lawson, any negotiations with the gambling companies led to them refunding the remaining £900,004 of the stolen money.
This means the PPCA should be refunded all of the funds taken by Chhapia, who had a previous conviction for drink-driving, the report added.
Defending Chhapia, Stan Reiz QC, said it was ‘six weeks of madness’.
Reiz added that Chhapia had approached the gambling firms himself and arranged for them to repay the money by saying it had been the proceeds of crime.
“Dr Chhapia, who has twice caught Covid, had continued to work in A&E following his arrest. During the second wave of the pandemic, he was working in a hospital on the Isle of Wight and his conduct was described by some of his colleagues as excellent,” Reiz was quoted as saying by The Mail.
Chhapia resigned from his role in October last year and admitted fraud by abuse of position.