The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has been asked to solve a dispute over the privatisation of key scanning facilities in Oxford hospitals.

The plans to privatise a vital part of the cancer treatment process in Oxford University Hospitals have been described as “opaque and murky”. NHS England proposed that the PET-CT scanning service be taken over by InHealth, a private medical company.

The decision was called into question when Doctors raised concerns for patient welfare, stating that the new deal would “damage patients’ health.” On the 4th of April, a 10,000 signature petition was also handed to the Health Overview Scrutiny Committee, opposing the plan.

Subsequently, the matter was referred to Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, by the Health Overview Scrutiny Committee. This followed a meeting last Thursday, held by the Oxfordshire Joint Health Committee, at which
Oxford University Hospitals gave evidence.

Speaking to The Guardian, NHS England announced that “Oxford Universities foundation trust and InHealth agreed to work together to deliver Pet-CT services across Thames Valley[…]”

“[…] which for NHS patients would mean services continuing to be provided from the Churchill Hospital in Oxford but also new local services for people in Swindon and Milton Keynes, providing more convenient scans as part of the NHS long term plan to improve care and save more lives.”

Professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Oxford, Adrian Harris, warned in a letter to Local MPs that “Patients … will have a two-tier system, one in hospital car parks with poor access machines – the Oxford patients [will get better scans] at the Churchill. The new scanners at Oxford are 10 times more sensitive than mobile ones”.

Nick Maynard, head of the cancer team at the OUH trust stated that “the patients of Oxfordshire will get inferior quality scans and what we believe will be a less safe service”.

The referral followed threats of legal action by NHS England against Oxford University Hospitals for libel. NHS heads threated to sue the trust if a legal case was mounted against the awarding of the PET-CT contract to InHealth.

As revealed in The Guardian, Sir Malcolm Grant, the then chairman of NHS England personally warned OUH’s Chief Executive of potential legal action in a telephone conversation. The move has been described by OUH as indicative of a recurring pattern of ‘bullying and intimidation’.

Cherwell believes this to be a unique event, with no other NHS trust having been threated with libel by their national overseers.

In response to the original plan to fully privatise the service, Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, told press “everything about this process has been murky and opaque, and that’s why I’m glad, after so much pressure, that the government is finally taking notice.

“I, alongside other Oxfordshire MPs, have stood strongly against this shambles of a process since some light was shed on it. Local residents, patients and doctors absolutely deserve to be in the know on such an important issue.

“With the secretary of state now getting a chance to step in, I fear it is too little too late, but I will be keeping up the pressure and writing to him as a matter of urgency.”

This article was updated on the 10th April to correct factual inaccuracies.