Uproar over ‘secret’ privatisation of Oxfordshire’s major cancer service

The Churchill Hospital, Oxford where two PET-CT scanners are used NNL-190219-193213009
The Churchill Hospital, Oxford where two PET-CT scanners are used NNL-190219-193213009

Campaigners, doctors and patient groups are up in arms over a ‘secret’ plan to sell off Oxfordshire’s major cancer diagnostic service.

PET-CT scanners, which helps diagnose and monitor tumours throughout treatment, are set to be taken over by a company called InHealth, leaving leaders of Oxford’s world class cancer teams aghast.

The Banbury Guardian has been told that Oxford University Hospitals Trust’s (OUH) bid for the world-renowned service they provide but were passed over in favour of the company which - if the deal is confirmed - will move the operation away from the Churchill Hospital.

“This is not something that’s easy to do. The scanners are in specially reinforced buildings and cost £1.6m each,” said an insider.

“The OUH is world renowned for its exceptional cancer team. This isn’t just any scanner. The service at the Churchill involves a huge team headed by a professor of nuclear medicine with many other specialist doctors, doctors in training, highly specialist radiographers and other technicians, not to mention the researchers who are part of this unique operation.”

The Banbury Guardian has been tried repeatedly - unsuccessfully - to get answers to specific questions on the privatisation of the PET-CT scanning service from NHS England, which is managing the ‘procurement’ process.

It is understood OUH governors, GP organisations and campaigners have contacted Oxfordshire’s MPs to try to get the process halted and reversed.

If it goes ahead, patients may have to go away from their specialists at the Oxford hospitals for their PET-CT scans, which determine the extent and progress of tumours.

Those closer to the operation say InHealth does not have the specialist radiographers necessary and there are fears that the seamless teamwork of the Churchill medical operation will be lost, to the detriment of cancer sufferers.

“A Governor of the Oxford University Hospitals Trust visited the Nuclear Medicine Department in the Churchill Hospital when the proposal was announced and has raised concerns about having the service relocated off-site and the level of professional and medical qualifications and expertise on offer,” said one source.

“Even governors of OUH were kept in the dark about this.”

In a letter to Oxfordshire MP Ed Vaizey, a GP locality forum said the current service is led by an internationally renowned Head of the Nuclear Medicine Department, who is a medically trained clinician with over 30 years’ experience.

“We do not understand why NHS England felt it was necessary to re-contract this excellent service. We understand the InHealth service will no longer be in the Churchill’s specially designed accommodation but off-site, in inappropriately converted buildings. We would like to know what assessments have been undertaken on the inevitable impact that this move will have on patients.

“We have also learned that the professional quality of the InHealth staff is not as required for the leadership of this category of nuclear diagnosis and treatment, namely that the on-site lead clinicians do not hold the ARSAC (Administration of Radioactive Substance Advisory Committee) Licence.

“Similarly, InHealth would not be able to support the current Multi-Disciplinary Team membership arrangements, which are essential for the work with patients. We are at a loss to know why this example of good practice will not be followed.”

Charlotte Bird, deputy chairman of the Keep the Horton General campaign group said: “This privatising move is taking the heart out of the world famous cancer service in Oxford. Apart from the seamless care patients need, what happens to the hugely important research collaboration that depends on use of these scanners?

“What happens if InHealth can’t make this work and has to give up the contract? What happens when the contract ends? Is the tender process even legal if the two bids from InHealth and the OUH are not like-for-like in terms of staffing and experience? What happens to the expert teams which will be totally disrupted?

“This is an undeniable evidence of the deliberate dismantling of the NHS and it looks as though patient care is the last thought on anyone’s minds.”

NHS England has not answered the Banbury Guardian’s questions but offered the following link which explains that if the new contract demands a change of location ‘services may be the subject of public consultation’.

See https://www.engage.england.nhs.uk/survey/pet-ct-services