Health bosses deny Banbury Guardian info on Oxford PET-CT scanner privatisation

NHS England intends to pass the Thames Valley contract for the PET-CT scanner service to a private company, InHealth
NHS England intends to pass the Thames Valley contract for the PET-CT scanner service to a private company, InHealth

The Banbury Guardian's attempts to reveal the truth on the privatisation of Oxford's NHS cancer scanners are being frustrated.

Campaigners trying to keep the contract for advanced scanning in Oxfordshire’s NHS have expressed disgust that Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have still not been answered.

The Banbury Guardian has been fighting for documents explaining how the decision was made to privatise the contract for the PET-CT scanners - against the wishes of everyone - except NHS England (NHSE).

In a comment piece, Banbury Guardian reporter Roseanne Edwards tells the story behind her ongoing battle.

We have been trying to get to the bottom of this matter, in which first the clinicians, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust (OUH) and campaigners have tried to keep this vital specialist service within OUH. But we have been thwarted at every turn.

We first asked OUH to give us correspondence between it and NHSE (which has made InHealth its preferred bidder in place of OUH) in mid-March.

The trust had 20 working days to deliver but delayed for months. We pressed them.

When it finally released the correspondence it was incomplete, missing out ten critical weeks of correspondence which we believe would explain why OUH management moved from fierce opposition to a contract handover and refusal to work with InHealth, to a supposed ‘partnership’ that gives InHealth the whole contract for the Thames Valley for operating two mobile scanners at Milton Keynes and Swindon.

The OUH will be a subcontractor to a company that is doing a minute fraction of the work. OUH’s experts, who will be doing the vast majority of the sophisticated work, are said to be furious.

After all that, when we finally got the ‘missing papers’ it was clear there were still crucial emails that had been left out.

We want to know what NHS England said to OUH to compel it to change its mind and go along with the privatisation. We think the public has a right to know.

In a bid to discover what was going on and why the FOI requests were being thwarted, the Banbury Guardian put in another FOI request in early July asking for all correspondence, internally and externally, connected with our original FOI request.

The OUH has failed to release that too and has still not met its obligation under the FOI law. Repeated reminders have been ignored.

The Banbury Guardian also sent a FOI to NHS England requesting evaluation documents on its decision but NHSE has refused, using a commonly employed exemption that releasing the information might prejudice commercial interests and that it failed the ‘public interest’ test since it may prejudice negotiations.

The Banbury Guardian has asked for an Internal Review.

Keep Our NHS Public Oxfordshire believes the PET-CT scanner deal amounts to ‘political horse-trading’.

Liz Peretz said: “This prevarication and delay is disgusting. We believe answers to the FOI requests will reveal unacceptable shenanigans around the comparison of the two original bids, which unjustly favoured the private company over our NHS. This shows problems at the heart of marketisation of our NHS. It shows why we need the NHS Reinstatement Bill to be enacted.”

Oxford East MP, Anneliese Dodds (Labour), said: “The FOI system was created so citizens could hold public bodies to account. Here we have health care bodies which have not been open and accountable about how decisions on services will be made - including whether or not they will be privatised. This is not acceptable.”