Health

MPs condemn poor value from hi-tech equipment

MRI brain scan
Image caption MPs say the NHS is wasteful in the way it buys and uses scanners

A report by MPs says the NHS in England is wasteful over the way it buys and deploys its most expensive equipment.

The Public Accounts Committee says this means poor value for money for taxpayers, and delays for patients.

The MPs say it is unacceptable that money is being wasted at a time when the NHS has to make savings of £20bn.

The coalition government says it is already encouraging trusts to collaborate more effectively.

The report says the NHS in England has hi-tech scanners and radiotherapy equipment worth £1bn.

This includes Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Tomography scanners, which are mainly used for diagnosis, and Linear Accelerator machines for cancer treatment.

Bulk-buying

The MPs warn that a lot of these will have to be replaced over the next three years. But the MPs say the purchasing process is wasteful, failing to take advantage of bulk-buying to get a better deal.

The report says that while the Department of Health is held accountable for value for money, responsibility for buying and deploying the equipment lies at local level - an approach it describes as "fragmented and unco-ordinated".

It calls for orders for expensive equipment to be "bundled together" across trusts so that they can exploit their joint buying power.

MPs 'shocked'

The MPs also highlight big variations in how effectively the equipment is used. They say the average number of scans per CT machine varies from about 7,800 to almost 22,000 per year.

The chair of the PAC, Margaret Hodge MP, said its members were "shocked" by the unacceptable response times for certain conditions.

"A modern NHS should not allow 50% of people who have a stroke to wait more than 24 hours for a scan," she said.

She urged the Department of Health to look at how equipment could be used more efficiently.

Dr Sharlin Ahmed from the Stroke Association said it was vital that patients received a prompt scan to diagnose the type of stroke and to ensure they received the right treatment.

"When a stroke happens - time lost is brain lost. We believe anyone who has a stroke should be able to receive a brain scan within 24 hours so that they are given the best possible chance of recovery."

The National Sentinel Stroke Audit for England, Wales and Northern Ireland reported recently that 70% of patients had a brain scan within 24 hours.

Huge variation

The chief executive of the Patients Association, Katherine Murphy, called for urgent action from the Department of Health:

"It is incredibly alarming that there is such huge variation in the number of scans being performed throughout the country. How is it that we have all this expensive equipment laying idle when at the end of August, some 11,119 people had been waiting more than six weeks for a diagnostic test at an NHS hospital, compared with 5,795 a year ago?"

Health Minister Simon Burns said the government was determined to root out waste.

"Equipment like CT and MRI scanners can play a critical role in diagnosis and treatment, and we are investing £150m to expand radiotherapy capacity and over £450m to achieve early diagnosis of cancer.

"Already, 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, but full savings will not be seen until all trusts make use of this system."

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