MPs condemn poor value from hi-tech equipment

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. The report warns that a lot of this equipment will need to be replaced and currently purchasing processes are wasteful, failing to take advantage of bulk-buying to get a better deal.

Margaret Hodge MP Chair for Public Accounts Committee stated, “The Department of Health is accountable for securing value for money in health spending but has no way of getting trusts to work together or tell them how to buy their equipment”. 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”.

The report calls for orders for expensive equipment to be “bundled together” across trusts so that they can exploit their joint buying power. 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.

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?”

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