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NHS heads threatened to sue one of England’s most admired hospitals for libel, for raising concerns that privatising a key element of cancer treatment would endanger patients’ health. In an extraordinary move NHS England tried to stop Oxford University hospitals (OUH) NHS trust opposing its controversial decision to let a private firm take charge of cancer scanning.

Lawyers for NHS England said the trust’s concerns, which were shared by doctors, MPs of all parties and cancer patients, amounted to defamation. The view was in a legal letter the NHS sent to OUH, which was seen by the Guardian.

NHS England’s solicitors, DAC Beachcroft, issued the warning last August. It came when relations between the body that runs England’s health service and the Oxford trust had become very strained over the former’s decision to take the contract for PET-CT scanning services away from OUH and hand it to InHealth.

That triggered a huge outcry. The weight of criticism forced NHS England into a U-turn last week and the two PET-CT scanners are now to stay in OUH’s Churchill hospital rather than be moved to a new facility. However, InHealth is still being given the contract to provide the service.

Anneliese Dodds, the Labour MP for Oxford East, whose constituency includes the Churchill, condemned NHS England’s threat to sue OUH, calling it scandalous. She had received the letter from an OUH whistleblower.

She said: “I am appalled that NHS England sought to prevent clinicians from offering an informed opinion about privatising Oxford’s PET-CT scan service.”

Dodds said it was absolutely unacceptable “that experts, who work directly in the provision of care for cancer patients, feel constrained from speaking out because of NHSE’s actions”.

Senior figures at OUH claim the veiled threat was part of a pattern of “bullying and intimidation” that NHS England used towards it to try to cajole it into keeping quiet over the PET-CT deal. Read more

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