CONTROVERSIAL plans to privatise vital cancer scans from Oxfordshire have been halted as authorities refer the decision to Government.

Protesters rallied while some 80 people packed out Oxfordshire County Council’s health and scrutiny Committee (HOSC) meeting on Thursday to plead for the services to stay in-house.

NHS England, which commissions the service, has chosen to dish out a new contract to provide positron emission computerised tomography scanning (PET-CT) to private firm InHealth.

READ AGAIN: Decision to privatise vital cancer scans could be delayed as outrage grows

It had threatened to take service out of the hands of Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) which has had the contract since 2005.

The move has been branded ‘crazy’ and ‘unclear’, and as such HOSC has referred the issue to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock, putting the brakes on all changes.

Dr Bruno Holthof, Chief Executive of Oxford University Hospitals said: “I would like to thank the Oxfordshire HOSC for agreeing to our request to examine this issue.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the many patients who have contacted us, HOSC and NHS England to say how much they value the current PET-CT service at the Churchill.

“We are grateful for their support and also that of our local MPs and our governors who have spoken out.”

The Churchill currently has two scanners, which provide a 3D image of the body, to help in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients in the Thames Valley.

InHealth’s bid would include scans in Oxford, Swindon and Milton Keynes.

Recently, the plans came under fire amid criticism of a ‘lack-of-transparency’ about awarding the new contract to InHealth.

NHSE argued it held a 30-day public engagement on the PET-CT scanning procurement between January and February 2016.

But critics raised concerns about the behind-closed-doors nature of the process including Oxford East MP Anneliese Dodds who said ‘an unprecedented number of patients, clinicians and researchers’ have expressed their deep concerns.

The MP went on to speak of a letter she had seen reportedly from NHS England to OUH threatening legal action for defamation for raising such concerns.

The Oxford Mail has not seen the letter, but Ms Dodds said: “It is 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.”

Read also: 'Extremely concerned': Victoria Prentis writes to CEO of NHS England over privatised PET-CT scan deal

County councillor and HOSC member Susanna Pressel also said she was ‘horrified’ by the move.

She added: “Our hospital trust is a global centre of research in this field.

“The consequence of privatising these scanners could well be the loss of a hard-won international reputation and the loss of billions of pounds worth of research funding.

“The only gain would be for a few shareholders. We can only hope that the secretary of state will throw out this crazy plan.”

In response, NHS England reported the trust had previously considered taking legal action against its plans.

An NHS England spokesman said: “Taxpayers would rightly take a dim view of an NHS hospital diverting funding onto lawyers fees for legal action against another part of the NHS, and Oxford University Hospitals were right not to attempt to do so.

“More importantly, a way has now been found both to secure PET-CT services locally in Oxford and expand them to Milton Keynes and Swindon so patients across the region have more convenient high quality care.”

NHSE said the plans would retain and have no change to service provision in Oxford.

It had suggested a further public consultation plans could be held after May 2.

Trust-wide cancer lead at OUH, Nick Maynard said the Churchill’s scanners were absolutely vital to the cancer patient pathway for patients in Oxfordshire and beyond.

He said: “The development of PET-CT for diagnosing and monitoring treatment of cancer has been a major part of the improvement of cancer care in the last decade.”

He added: “I’m delighted HOSC has listened to public opinion and halted the process and referred it back to the secretary of state. We hope he will listen to public opinion in a similar way and stop the process completely."