Fight against privatisation of scanner service continues

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

The fight to keep advanced cancer scanning in the NHS at Oxford is continuing with specialists voicing fears for patients and doctors refusing to work with a private provider chosen to take the contract.

NHS England (NHSE), which has chosen a company called InHealth to take over the Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) service, is accused of pressurising the trust into complying.

OUH initially rejected working with a private contractor because of concerns over patient care while its specialist doctors say they will not work with InHealth. But NHSE now claims a ‘partnership’ is planned.

In March the Banbury Guardian applied to OUH for all correspondence between the trust and NHSE over the issue via Freedom of Information.

Two months after the April deadline, the trust finally released the letters and emails but a critical-two month section was left out. A further request was made for the missing correspondence to be supplied urgently.

OUH chief finance director Jason Dorsett made contact with the paper on Friday to explain the omission was not ‘a conspiracy’ and the papers would be supplied.

The Banbury Guardian has asked for all of the missing emails and letters. OUH says the omission was a genuine error.

Campaigners believe the papers – if released in full – will indicate the pressure put on OUH by NHSE to work with InHealth, even though cancer doctors at the Churchill Hospital refuse to cooperate.

The OUH had bid for the service it has been providing for 15 years. The PET-CT scans show specialists how treatment is working and allow doctors to plan ongoing procedures.

InHealth would rely on using the OUH’s nuclear scanners but would supply mobile PET-CT scanners in Milton Keynes and Swindon.

Specialists say the quality of mobile scanners is inferior while links in the specialist team approach to treatment would be broken.

Oxfordshire Health Overview and Scrutiny committee referred the matter to the Secretary of State for Health complaining proper public consulltation had not taken place.

NHSE had undertaken a ‘public engagement’ process in 2016. HOSC’s request for a review has been rejected.

This week NHSE wrote to HOSC saying: “HOSC was invited to participate in the 2016 public engagement process.

“Public engagement was conducted about a year prior to NHSE reaching a final decision to proceed with the procurement and almost 18 months prior to the procurement commencing.

“This was the opportunity for the committee to engage about our proposals at a very early stage in the process.

“NHS England has always intended to review and undertake any further public involvement activities once the procurement process was sufficiently advanced and if it became clear there would be a substantial service change.

“It is untrue to suggest equipment on mobile units is incapable of producing the same image quality as equipment based in static facilities.”

It adds there would be various ways in which InHealth’s staff would be able to liaise with multi-disciplinary teams who plan cancer treatment at the Churchill Hospital.

Mobile unit teams will have life support training, it said.

On accusations NHSE had threatened legal action against OUH, NHSE said: “It is not possible for one public body to pursue defamation proceedings against another public body. NHSE’s legal advisers were merely intending to alert the trust to the potential for other parties to seek redress for any unsubstantiated allegations made publicly.”

OUH says it asked HOSC to take up the issue in January after it was told by NHSE the PET-CT service was to be given to InHealth. HOSC wrote with its concerns about clinical quality if the privatisation were confirmed.

“Our evidence also stressed our concerns about the potential impact of such a decision on our ability to not only recruit and retain the best staff but also carry out research to benefit future generations of cancer patients,” OUH said.

It defended asking HOSC to take up the issue as it had led to public scrutiny and interest.

Prof Sir Jonathan Montgomery, chair of OUH, said: “Many patients have contacted us to say how much they value the current PET-CT service at the Churchill and the trust board shares the depth of our clinicians’ concerns about any decision which impacts negatively on the quality and safety of patient care. We continue to maintain an active dialogue with NHS England.”

“I would like to reassure patients we and our clinicians remain focused on the provision of this excellent service.”

“The trust board and clinicians are united in their view maintaining and developing the current PET-CT service at the Churchill Hospital is in the best interests of patients.”

InHealth did not respond to the Banbury Guardian’s request for comment.

To read more on this developing story see: Partnership will let ‘private company in by back door and Scans sell-off will ‘disrupt Oxford’s outstanding cancer service.