Referral over controversial Churchill Hospital cancer scanner ‘partnership’ refused by health secretary

The health secretary has refused to ‘call-in’ a controversial deal between the NHS and a private company to run the cancer scanning service at the Churchill Hospital despite widespread concern.

Matt Hancock cited ongoing discussions between NHS England, Oxford University Hospitals NHS trust and InHealth about a potential partnership for not accepting the Oxfordshire joint health overview and scrutiny committee’s (JHOSC) referral.

MPs, campaigners and councillors hoped the Secretary of State for Health would refer it to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, but he has not, Oxford MP Anneliese Dodds tweeted yesterday (Wednesday, June 5).

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Local clinicians, who know the needs of their communities best, are responsible for making decisions about local NHS services.

“We understand discussions are ongoing between the NHS and InHealth and the Government has encouraged participants in those discussions to work together to find a way through.

“As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, we are committed to ensuring patients receive the best possible care in the right, local setting.”

The Churchill Hospital, Oxford. NNL-190219-193213009

The Churchill Hospital, Oxford. NNL-190219-193213009

NHSE wants to award the contract for the world-class service in Oxford, which serves people from across the Thames Valley, to a private firm, which would then ‘sub-contract’ to the hospital trust.

Hospital trust chairman Sir Jonathan Montgomery said: “We are naturally surprised and disappointed that the matter is not being considered further at national level but we remain grateful to the Oxfordshire HOSC for agreeing to our request to examine this issue at a meeting in public and for the support which we have received from our governors, local MPs and others.

“I would also like to thank the many patients who have contacted us to say how much they value the current PET-CT service at the Churchill.

“We will await further developments but in the meantime I would like to reassure patients that we and our clinicians remain focused on the provision of this excellent service.”

A spokesman for Banbury MP Victoria Prentis said she remains concerned about the situation and has requested an urgent meeting with health ministers to discuss the issue in more detail.

It is hoped that this meeting will be joined by cross-party representatives in Oxfordshire.

An Oxfordshire Keep Our NHS Public spokesman said the ‘partnership’ is a red herring designed to let InHealth in through the backdoor and urged JHOSC to insist on further scrutiny.

“We demand that discussions between Oxford University Hospitals Trust, NHS England and InHealth should halt now,” they added.

In February, NHS England’s decision to give the PET-CT scanner contract to InHealth led to wide-scale concern over the safety and outcomes for patients in Oxfordshire, including the hospital trust.

Ahead of a JHOSC meeting to discuss the issue, NHS England revealed a partnership had been arranged for the hospital trust to keep the service with InHealth providing mobile scanners in Milton Keynes and Swindon.

After a heated meeting in April, JHOSC referred this matter to the Department for Health, outlining the issues with a change in provider and not being consulted beforehand.

A spokesman for NHS England said: “NHS England continues to work with organisations involved to reach a partnership arrangement for patients not only in Oxford but also for the first time by opening new and far more convenient services for patients in Swindon and Milton Keynes.”

Elected officials and residents were particularly worried about whether this change of procurement will maintain the high quality service.

Medical professionals working on the Churchill Hospital site also share this view, particularly given the level of expertise in the team.

An additional mobile service, as suggested by InHealth, will not offer the accuracy of the current scanner, already afforded to patients in and around the county, according to those concerned.

The JHOSC chairman has been contacted for comment.