Outrage as Thames Valley cancer service outsourced to private firm

NHS England are under fire for outsourcing the contract for PET-CT scanning of cancer patients in the Thames Valley area.

Councillors in Oxfordshire have warned that the service for cancer patients in this area will suffer due to the expected changes. They have expressed concern over the potential for medical misdiagnosis as mobile units are preferred and may give less accurate results than those of fixed units in hospital.

Councillors expressed concern via a letter to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, that patients supported by mobile units in Swindon and Milton Keynes may become part of a “two-tier service” and “while benefiting from easier access, could have a poorer outcome given the combination of machines that are calibrated differently, potentially producing less accurate results, a lack of doctors on site to deal with any health problems that may arise, and radiologists only communicating remotely with clinicians”.

The contract is currently serviced by Oxford University Hospitals Trust (OUH), but the decision has been made to re-tender and award this to the private firm, InHealth.

The feeling is so strong that a cross party group of Oxfordshire MPs have also sent a letter to the Health Secretary, raising a series of concerns which would ultimately result in local cancer care being weakened. This raises the possibility of misdiagnosis compensation being sought by patients who may have symptoms overlooked due to the change in the initial diagnostic setting.

Councillors on Oxfordshire county council’s joint health overview and scrutiny committee (HOSC) have also criticised NHS England for threatening to sue the OUH when raising concerns that the new contract would risk patient safety. In addition, the HOSC have expressed concern that they were not informed of the intention to put the contract out to tender, as is the obligation of NHS England, under the Health and Social Care Act 2001.

Labour MP for Oxford East, Anneliese Dodds, said: “This excoriating letter sums up the many problems with NHS England’s decision to award Oxford’s cancer scanning services to a private company, and then backtrack and try to create a ‘partnership’ between that company and the NHS, after it was faced with massive local and national opposition.” Cancer specialists at OUH had been “sidelined” by NHS England, she added.

A spokesperson at NHS England said: “This letter contains a number of obvious and major factual errors. But the NHS won’t let that prevent partnership working to expand PET-CT services for patients not only in Oxford but also for the first time by opening new and far more convenient services for patients in Swindon and Milton Keynes.”

NHS England denies threatening to sue OUH for libel, even though its lawyers’ letter to the trust – which the Guardian newspaper has reported it has seen – raises that possibility.

You may be entitled to NHS misdiagnosis compensation if symptoms of a medical condition were missed or diagnosed as something else. A specialist medical misdiagnosis solicitor will be able to assist you with your claim for compensation.

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