A disgraced NHS chief who admitted to fraudulently paying £11,000 in health service funds to her husband collapsed in court yesterday as she was spared jail.
Paula Vasco-Knight, the former leader of NHS equalities, required medical treatment and an ambulance after she was given a suspended sentence for a ruse that saw taxpayers’ money pocketed by her husband Stephen.
Formerly championed as one of the health service’s greatest success stories - she rose from the rank of nurse to become the first black executive in the NHS’s history in 2008 - the 53-year-old’s fall from grace came as she was helped out of court by a team of paramedics.
The drama unfolded as the Vasco-Knights were both spared jail for a scam which siphoned off £11,072 in funds intended for in-house leadership development.
Awarded a bursary in 2012 as part of her role as the NHS head of equalities and diversity, Mrs Vasco-Knight, who also ran South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, commissioned her husband to produce a leadership document entitled Transform the following year.
However, her husband Stephen never completed the document, but still invoiced the trust for payment, which Mrs Vasco-Knight later authorised.
Standing trial yesterday, Exeter Crown Court heard how the document was later exposed as “nothing more than a notepad”, with many pages of the 200-page booklet either left blank or filled with material copied from an earlier text published in 2014.
Prosecuting, Gareth Evans told the court that the couple had initially denied any wrongdoing, having told police officers in an initial interview that it had been highly valuable.
"Paula Vasco-Knight said to officers, 'please take care of it', importing an importance and value on the document,” Mr Evans said. "It's clear it's a complete fraud.”
Mitigating, Mrs Vasco-Knight’s defence lawyer Lloyd Morgan said that she “bitterly” regretted her actions, adding that she had come from “humble beginnings” and had never expected to fulfil the “dizzying” responsibilities she was later entrusted with.
Sentencing, recorder Don Tait described Vasco-Knight’s actions as a “monumental fall from grace”, as he sentenced her to 16 months imprisonment, suspended for two years. Her husband received a 10 month sentence, also suspended for two years.
“As as chief executive officer at the South Devon NHS Trust, one can hardly imagine a more serious abuse of trust and responsibility on your part,” Mr Tait said.
"You were on a six-figure salary. In arranging for your husband to secure this contract between you, you obtained just over £11,000 of the public's money.
"Money from an NHS budget which we all know is under the severest pressure for resources."