Campaigners raise concerns over private funding of new Integrated Diagnostic Centre at South Tyneside District Hospital
The application from South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust (STSFT) aims to tackle pressures around diagnostic services while slashing waiting lists.
In addition, the £10million hub would offer a specialist PET-CT scanner pinpointing cancer cells and saving patients a trip to hospitals in Middlesbrough or Newcastle.
Investment has been made possible due to a partnership between STSFT and Alliance Medical, a company which has provided mobile diagnostic vans to the trust for more than a decade, alongside providing PET-CT scanning across the entire NHS.
It is understood that Alliance Medical will front the capital cost of the diagnostic centre building and provide diagnostic services at the facility for an agreed time period of more than 10 years, with the trust paying a fee 'per scan.'
At previous council meetings in both Sunderland and South Tyneside, health chiefs have moved to reassure councillors that the development will be value for money.
However, Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign (SSTHC) leaders have questioned the project and raised concerns about “handing over” diagnostic services to a private company.
Roger Nettleship, chair of the SSTHC, has submitted a freedom of information request to the NHS trust asking several questions about the partnership with Alliance Medical.
“We’re asking why has the trust chosen not to fund this £10million new project and train and invest in sufficient staff to open this new Diagnostic Imaging Services itself and other questions that relate to the handing over of our diagnostic imaging services to the private company Alliance Medical,"he said.
“This is especially important given the Government has announced in the budget £2.3billion for at least 100 community diagnostic centres which can run clinical tests like MRIs, ultrasounds, and CT scans, so the money is there."
Mr Nettleship also raised concerns about similar contracts being awarded across the NHS to "privatise and profit from our NHS diagnostic and imaging services".
"This means that our existing diagnostic and imaging services at our hospitals in South Tyneside, Sunderland and Durham and all over the north east will become unsustainable if this privatisation of these services is allowed to continue,” he said.
"We think these questions we are raising with the STSFT are in the public interest and we all should have the main say in these decisions which are of fundamental importance for the future in taking our NHS forward as a free, human centred public health care system.
“The present direction will make the NHS a US-style pay-the-rich system where people have to pay more and more and get less health services.”
Concerns about 'privatisation' were previously discussed at a meeting of South Tyneside Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Coordinating and Call-in Committee in early October.
Councillors heard that Alliance Medical had a strong track record of working with STSFT and other NHS trusts across the country.
Peter Sutton, executive director of planning and business development at STSFT, stressed the partnership around the diagnostic centre would provide a sustainable model for services while improving local access and addressing health inequalities.
A spokesperson for South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust added: “We look forward to responding to Mr Nettleship’s Freedom of Information request.
“Our investment into the South Tyneside District Hospital site and introduction of specialist PET-CT scanning into the borough is very welcome news for patients and in no way should be misconstrued as privatisation of services.”