The NHS is not using high-value diagnostic imaging and radiotherapy equipment to its full capacity and is failing to meet patient needs as a result, according to a report from the Government’s Public Accounts Committee.
“The Department of Health has got to look at how machines can be used more efficiently to make the best use of scarce resources,”The report, ‘Managing high value equipment in the NHS in England’, stated that poor co-operation between trusts is leading to a “scandalous” shortfall in provision of vital services such as post-stroke scans.
NHS Supply Chain has said it is working with the DH to address the issues raised by the report and the “significant challenge” of procuring costly but much-needed equipment.
The NHS in England spends approximately £50m per year on MRI and CT scanners and linear accelerators for radiotherapy. However, the Committee said, the use of this equipment to provide services is “fragmented and uncoordinated”.
The number of CT scans carried out per machine in a year was found to vary between 7,800 and 22,000, with availability ranging from 40–100 hours per week.
Shockingly, the report found that only 50% of stroke patients received a CT scan within 24 hours – an essential service for determining immediate treatment.
Margaret Hodge, Chair of the Committee, said the way high-value equipment is bought and used by the NHS “is not providing value for money”. She described the shortfall in post-stroke CT scans as “scandalous” and the inequalities in usage between regions as “unacceptable”.
“The Department of Health has got to look at how machines can be used more efficiently to make the best use of scarce resources,” she concluded.
The report highlights the challenge for the new NHS Commissioning Board to ensure that Foundation Trusts work together to ensure access to capital equipment.
Health Minister Simon Burns commented that more streamlined procurement of scanners had already begun: “The NHS has saved up to 15% on scanners by working with NHS Supply Chain to co-ordinate large orders over time with other trusts. This is the NHS working smarter.”
“We are currently working with the Department of Health to consider the recommendations in the report,” said Andy Brown, NHS Supply Chain’s Managing Director for Diagnostics. “Buying and maintaining equipment during times of budgetary restraint will provide a significant challenge for NHS trusts and our range of frameworks to plan, aggregate, purchase or lease and maintain high-end equipment will be invaluable to the NHS.”