Posts Tagged ‘CAT Scans’

From 2005: Failure of Private Medical Scans Brought into NHS

January 31, 2015

I found this article in Private Eye’s edition for the 19th August – 1st September 2005, reporting the extremely poor performance of the private MRI scans administered by Alliance and Medical as part of the then Labour government’s privatisation of the NHS. They were so poor, that the results had to be double-checked by NHS staff.

Alliance Medical
Double Cheques

Last June, as part of Labour’s drive to transfer NHS duties to the private sector, health minister John Hutton awarded a £95m scanning contract to Alliance Medical. he claimed that private MRI scans would increase capacity and prove “good value for money”.

The deal was certainly good value for Alliance and its parent company Bridgepoint Capital, which – by an eerie coincidence – was employing Alan Milburn MP as a £30,000-a-year consultant at the time when Milburn’s old flatmate John Hutton awarded the contract. But it didn’t turn out to be quite such good news for patients, especially as most of the scan images were sent abroad for analysis – leading to delays, language misunderstandings and mistakes in diagnoses.

“I think everyone acknowledges that it has been a complete disaster,” Dr Gill Markham, chair of the BMA’s radiology sub-committee, told the Today programme in February.

After early complaints about the quality of Alliance’s work, the government appointed Professor Adrian Dixon of the Royal College Radiologists as a “national clinical guardian” to monitor standards. According to documents obtained by the Eye, Prof Dixon’s advice is that “because of anxieties concerning reports in the first few months of the contract, it would seem prudent that cases scheduled for surgery or similar intervention on the basis of an AML
[Alliance Medical Ltd] report issued up to the end of 2004 should be discussed with the local radiology department.”

In other words, scans carried out last year by Alliance now have to be double-checked by NHS radiologists – thus placing an extra burden on the health service’s time and resources.

Alliance’s failures haven’t deterred ministers, however. In July, health secretary Patricia Hewitt announced a “choice of scans” programme whereby people waiting more than six months for various diagnostic tests – including MRI and CAT scans – will be able to go beyond their local provider and get a speedier service from private firms such as Alliance. But how speedy are they? In an audit of Alliance’s work for the NHS, conducted in May, Prof Dixon discovered that although the company scanned patients more quickly, this advantage was sometimes lost because Alliance was then “twice as slow” to report the results.

In a direct comparison of Alliance’s work with that of its NHS counterparts, Dixon noted that “the language was better in most NHS-generated reports”, and that “clinical opinion was judged slightly better in most NHS reports”.

The Royal College reacted to the audit by warning that Alliance is only “suitable for non-complex examinations”. It added that NHS staff should keep a “clerical/governance” check on Alliance work to make sure that reports about “serious lesions” are spotted and fast-tracked.

The Eye asked the department of health if – and how – it would be funding all this extra double-checking work, but answer came there none.

This story is still important, as the government is privatising the NHS piecemeal under the assumption that private enterprise is more efficient. As this story shows, it is not. Indeed, without the results being double-checked by the NHS, the poor results of the private medical scans would be a danger to patients’ health.

The privatisation of the NHS needs to be stopped. Now.