Plan to privatise Thames Valley cancer scanning service referred to Health Secretary

Protestors outside County Hall ahead of the meeting on the PET-CT scanner service privatisation
Protestors outside County Hall ahead of the meeting on the PET-CT scanner service privatisation

NHS England’s plan to hand the cancer scanning service for people across the Thames Valley to a private company will be referred to the Health Secretary after a heated meeting today (Thursday, April 4).

Oxfordshire County Council’s joint health overview and scrutiny committee agreed the controversial decision should be investigated as it was not consulted before the preferred bidder was chosen.

The joint health overview and scrutiny committee

The joint health overview and scrutiny committee

Committee members grilled representatives from NHSE, InHealth - the firm which won the initial bid for the PET-CT scanning service - and Oxford University Hospitals NHS trust on the proposal, which has caused widespread outrage.

Numerous speakers gave passionate speeches about why the Churchill Hospital’s ‘world renowned’ service should not be given to InHealth and the concerns for a ‘two-tier system’.

Committee chairman Cllr Arash Fatemian said not referring the plan would set a dangerous precedent for commissioners not consulting the HOSC before making significant changes to the county’s health care.

The biggest cheer of the meeting followed from the packed crowd, which had jeered and heckled speakers from NHSE and InHealth throughout and applauded those who spoke out against them.

The packed public gallery

The packed public gallery

Matt Hancock will then decide whether or not to refer it to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel which would assess the plan before advising the minister on next steps.

Trust chief executive Bruno Holthof said: “I would like to thank the Oxfordshire HOSC for agreeing to our request to examine this issue.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the many patients who have contacted us, HOSC and NHSE to say how much they value the current PET-CT service at the Churchill.

“We are grateful for their support and also that of our local MPs and our governors who have spoken out on this issue.”

A protest banner outside County Hall

A protest banner outside County Hall

Joan Stewart from Keep Our NHS Public Oxfordshire, which protested outside County Hall before the meeting, said afterwards: “It’s a good first step.

”NHSE is likely to fight against this and try to find flaws but the campaign has been vindicated and it’s great that HOSC has shown that it’s up to standing up to these people.”

NHSE, the trust and InHealth proposed an agreement where the service at the Churchill would be unchanged but mobile scanners would be set up at Milton Keynes and Swindon hospitals.

But committee members had grave concerns about the details of the arrangement which is yet to be agreed, as well as making some patients go to the mobile sites, which OUH argues are inferior.

Worries about ‘privatisation by stealth’, legal threats by NHSE to the trust over it speaking out against the plan, and the lack of full consultation were also raised.

Mostly members just could not understand how InHealth could beat the hospital trust in the tender process, and why NHSE would add another layer of administration for seemingly no benefit.

One speaker described it as ‘like putting a knife to a Rembrandt canvas,’ while Cllr Neil Owen called the consultation a ‘Mickey Mouse job’ and that he felt ‘betrayed’.

Cllr Fatemian said NHSE showed ‘arrogance at the complete disregard for scrutiny engagement’ as the plan was ‘the biggest surprise’ after being assured they would be kept in the loop.

Nicola McCulloch from NHSE defended the organisation, saying it followed its guidelines and it had completed a ‘robust and clear’ procurement process as well as undertaking a national engagement exercise.

Trust cancer lead Nick Maynard pleaded for the service not to be lost from the Churchill, and this plan would mean patient care will suffer.

Dr Holthof also spoke at the meeting, defending the new agreement with NHSE and InHealth as its service would not change.

The chief executive of InHealth was also present - Richard Bradford defended his firm’s record, having provided two million scans across the country.

But committee members were not convinced and wanted to refer the decision to the government.

Sue Edgar from Labour Health Matters, a Banbury Labour party working group, said: "The appalling thing was that NHSE representatives and InHealth professionals in the room didn’t even look sorry. Just pathetic.

"If this is the calibre of our brave new semi privatised NHS, heaven help us. And thank God for local scrutiny.

"We can only hope the Secretary of State sees reason - though of course we can’t help pointing out that it is his government’s policy of blind bidding and private contracts that brought us to this awful point in the first place.”"