Scans sell-off will ‘disrupt Oxford’s outstanding cancer service’

Churchill Hospital where doctors say they refuse to work with a private provider on PET-CT scans NNL-180604-161930001
Churchill Hospital where doctors say they refuse to work with a private provider on PET-CT scans NNL-180604-161930001

A cancer specialist has spoken out over his fears for patients if the PET-CT scanner service at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford is handed to a private company.

Prof Adrian Harris, former Professor of Medical Oncology at Oxford University, has warned that privatising this advanced tumour scanning service could lead to a less safe service for patients.

Professor Adrian Harris, cancer expert and researcher who is fighting privatisation of the PET-CT scanner service

Professor Adrian Harris, cancer expert and researcher who is fighting privatisation of the PET-CT scanner service

“NHSE is putting pressure on OUH to allow InHealth to be ‘clearly be part of the solution’,” he told the Banbury Guardian. “This is a problem that does not exist so they can’t be part of the solution.”

Prof Harris said demands for improvement could not be made ‘by adding another step with grossly inferior equipment, reporting and team working’.

“No clinical team wants to do this because patient care will suffer,” he claimed.

Prof Harris is critical of OUH and says it has not supported its cancer doctors’ opposition to the privatisation.

He says a ‘partnership’ arrangement NHS England is pushing for would:

• affect training of future specialists at Oxford’s globally renowned cancer centre

• cut income to the trust in favour of preferred bidder, InHealth

• risk patient safety as mobile scanners at Milton Keynes and Swindon were not as sophisticated as scanners at the Churchill, and there would be no doctors present

• end face-to-face collaboration between experts on treatment plans as InHealth would only supply written reports in the majority of cases.

“The old scanners use cathode ray tubes like old TVs; the new scanners use similar technology to flat-screen TVs and are ten times more sensitive, three times quicker and use less radioactivity,” he said.

“When you have a scan in Oxford the machine safety is checked every day by a physicist, versus every three months in the portable scanner by an engineer.

“The Oxford scans are more accurate and can be used for planning radiotherapy. The others cannot.”

Prof Harris said a quarter of patients having PET scans need an injection of dye for the X-ray, but this could not be given at portable units.

Prof Harris’s criticism extends to the OUH which first refused to enter any deal with InHealth but, he says, has been convinced by NHS England (NHSE) that a ‘partnership’ might be feasible.

He said: “The trust got a legal team to try and make one of the NHS radiology consultants allow his licence to use radio-isotopes [so called ARSAC license] to be used by (InHealth), which he would not do because of concerns about the company. It also refused to agree to defend the doctors if a legal case had been taken out.

“The latest letter from NHSE shows they are still trying to force the trust to have the company in a key role, which makes no sense, but is very strongly worded,

“Trust doctors costed the bid for the trust. We know it was middle of the range for London teaching hospitals and the same as another private company, Alliance Medical, but we have not been allowed to see the final figures and bid. Why not? What was the final bid and why was it given away?”

Prof Harris said NHSE was forcing an issue and allowing disruption of an outstanding service.

“The trust board does not want it, every medical team and doctor does not want it.”

He added: “The Thames Valley Cancer Network and Cancer Commissioning Group, which represents hospitals, patients and budgets in the region were told they could not discuss the contract or concerns about it because it was ‘under legal review’. This was not true and it blocked open discussion.”

Prof Harris said there were no ongoing negotiations and senior consultants had stopped working on them because of their concerns.

He said he understood there would be only one retired doctor available to read the InHealth scans compared to several world leaders in Oxford.

The doctors are part of specialised teams and attend weekly meetings to discuss the scans with the consultants directly caring for the patients. InHealth, he said, would in general only provide a written report. All Oxford scans are reported within 24 hours.

Consultants in Leeds, Newcastle, Cambridge, the Royal Marsden and many other major cancer units have been trained in Oxford under the current teams.

To read more on this developing story see: Partnership will let ‘private company in by back door and Fight against privatisation of scanner service continues.