The Churchill Hospital in Oxfordshire is an international leader for the treatment and diagnosis of cancer.
It uses 3D PET-CT scans to look for cancer and to assess whether treatments are working. Yet NHS England has just given the go ahead for the scanners to be relocated to a private clinic run by InHealth – a private company – to provide the scanning services.
This has come at a time when NHS England and the government have been publicly rowing back on their support for the privatisation agenda. Under David Cameron and then Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, the 2012 Health and Social Care Act was passed through parliament.
I was the biggest top down reform of in the NHS’ history, and it’s driving purpose was to encourage competition and the privatisation of services. Under the Act, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) – those who commission services for a given area – were required to put contracts out to tender to both NHS organisations and the private sector.
Whoever could deliver a service for the cheapest amount of money would be awarded the contract. Clinical excellence was side-lined, and money became the overriding factor in deciding whether a service would be privatised or provided by an NHS body.
This is how the likes of Virgin Care now hold over 400 contracts to provide services within the NHS, despite having a poor track record on patient safety. The tendering process has cost the NHS billions in wasted money at a time when successive Conservative government’s have subjected the health service to the longest spending squeeze in its 70-year history.
The government’s Long-Term Plan for the NHS, which was unveiled in January of this year, publicly pledged to scrap elements of the Health and Social Care Act which promoted privatisation. But as the National Health Action Party and others such as Keep Our NHS Public and the NHS Support Federation have made clear, the Long-Term Plan is in fact the continuation of the government’s plan for the privatisation of the health service.
The decision to allow the scanning services to be privatised is further proof of the hollowness of the government’s and NHS England’s promise to halt privatisation. Oncologists at the hospital have expressed concern that forcing patients to travel to an external clinic will put unnecessary strain on already seriously ill patients and be detrimental to their health. There are also serious concerns that whilst InHealth may be able to offer the scanning services at a reduced price it won’t be able to provide a service with the quality and precision that meets patients’ needs. In short, there are serious fears patients will have to go for unnecessary repeat scans.
Reacting to the news, a National Health Action Party spokesperson said the following: “The National Health Action Party and others who are deeply concerned for the future of the NHS have consistently said that this government cannot be trusted not to privatise the health service. Today we are seeing the proof of that. We are calling upon the government to block the privatisation of these vitally important scanning services. Money should not trump the wellbeing of the British people. At a time when cancer targets are not being met at a national level, it is vital we support those centres of excellence who are leading the way in fighting such an insidious disease.”