Pressure is on to halt Oxford PET-CT cancer scanner privatisation

A PET-CT scanner. Picture by Getty Images NNL-190514-152616001
A PET-CT scanner. Picture by Getty Images NNL-190514-152616001

Pressure is mounting on Health Secretary Matt Hancock to drop privatisation of the Church Hospital’s advanced cancer scanners.

The outsourcing of the PET-CT scanner service - currently a globally renowned operation run by Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust (OUH) - has caused outrage among the public and medical profession all around the country.

Cllr Arash Fatemian, chairman of Oxfordshire HOSC NNL-170908-093838001

Cllr Arash Fatemian, chairman of Oxfordshire HOSC NNL-170908-093838001

NHS England (NHSE) chose a company called InHealth, which has been picking up contracts for scanning around England as it has expanded in the last few years.

But councillors and NHS campaigners are angered that there was little or no public consultation about the issue which is considered a huge change.

Last week, Oxfordshire’s Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) wrote to Health Secretary Matt Hancock formally referring the matter for further review.

Cllr Arash Fatemian, chairman of the committee said in his letter: “PET-CT is a specialist diagnostic imaging service... to provide highly detailed three-dimensional images of the inside of the body.

“The scanning is predominantly used in the staging and management of cancer.

“OUH has held the contract since 2005. The Trust carries out 5,000 scans per year on two PET-CT scanners owned by the Trust.”

The referral spoke of NHSE’s three reasons for choosing InHealth - that it was cheaper, it offered additional mobile scanners in Swindon and Milton Keynes and that it met legislation over privatising services.

Oxfordshire HOSC complained that, while an online ‘engagement’ took place in 2016 at the start of the nationwide contracting process, the HOSC was not made aware of it until April 2019. Neither was it told when the second phase of contracting happened in 2017.

And when InHealth was chosen as the ‘preferred bidder’ in July 2018, HOSC was still not consulted.

The referral described NHSE’s decision-making as ‘showing... arrogant disregard for discharging statutory legal duties and engaging in due process.”

In the meantime professors and senior cancer doctors at OUH have shown their fury at the loss of their own service.

Warnings were given about InHealth not having sufficiently trained staff and of a dislocation in the essential liaison between doctors and radiologists at the Churchill.

Research collaboration between the OUH and Oxford University would also be compromised, it was claimed.

The university is about to have a third, state of the art scanner installed at the Churchill.

Fears that sick patients in the middle of treatment would have to be ferried from the Churchill to InHealth premises for monitoring scans were answered when it was announced InHealth would run the OUH scanners in the Churchill.

No one has explained how that would be managed. Some doctors indicated they would not work with InHealth.

The Banbury Guardian has asked, via Freedom of Information, for correspondence on the issue between NHSE and the OUH but no response has been given, several weeks after the deadline for disclosure.

Keep Our NHS Public Oxfordshire spokesman Bill McKeith said: “‘We were shocked and disturbed to hear Simon Stevens tell the Public Accounts Committee on April 24 that a ‘partnership arrangement’ between InHealth, OUH, and the NHSE was going ahead and that there was no possibility of changing this – we do not believe this is correct.”