AN independent investigation has been launched by health bosses after allegations that two of its senior consultants were referring patients to their private clinic for treatment – costing the NHS up to £1 million.
Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust (WAHT) took the step following claims printed in the Birmingham Mail concerning the two top medics, Stephen Pandy and Steve Lake.
It says the clinic, The Worcestershire Bowel Clinic, based at the private Spire South Bank Hospital in Worcester, was registered by the doctors in January 2012 and began receiving patients after it opened in October 2013 – paid for by taxpayers as part of a drive to hit government-set targets through something called the Waiting List Initiative.
However the two doctors didn’t declare a pecuniary interest in the clinic to health chiefs until 2015.
It’s further alleged that the work was not put out to tender and that WAHT failed to take any action despite the conflict of interest being highlighted.
Both doctors are clinical directors at WAHT, Mr Pandey, aged 43, of colorectal surgery and Mr Lake aged 60, of endoscopy, and in these roles they are charged with ensuring patients are treated effectively to meet cancer waiting time targets.
It is also alleged they were among the leading clinicians to successfully argue for the centralisation of bowel surgery at Worcestershire Royal, achieved in 2013 which led to the closure of the service at the Alexandra Hospital.
However since then, due to capacity problems at Worcestershire Royal, it is claimed the Trust is spending millions on the Waiting List Initiative to meet its targets.
Figures obtained by the newspaper show WAHT spent more than £17 million on the initiative in the last three years – with more than £3 million being paid to private providers.
Neal Stote, chairman of the Save the Alex campaign said: “This is pure and simply down to appalling management – how on earth do you allow this sort of thing to happen? There is obviously no control over what the clinicians are doing.
“This once again highlights the situation where we have one Trust whose management is rated as inadequate while up the road in Birmingham, 12 miles away, we have one rated as outstanding, and I know which one I would choose.”
Chris Tidman, interime chief executive of WAHT said: “We have received allegations from the Birmingham Mail, and as with all concerns raised, we will be setting up an independent investigation.
“The two consultants are aware of the concerns and have assured us there has been no wrong doing on their part and have agreed to fully co-operate and participate in the investigation.
“As a matter of record both consultants declared an interest to Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust in 2015.
“We have not been able to trace any formal declaration of interest from either of the consultants prior to this but this doesn’t necessarily indicate any wrongdoing, again this will be further examined by the independent review.
“The centralisation of bowel surgery services was a commissioner led initiative and was based on clinical evidence and best practice aimed at improving standards and outcomes for patients.
“As experienced clinicians, the two consultants were involved in the work leading to centralisation but the decision making process involved other surgeons, clinical teams including GPs.
“We remain confident that the decision was taken for clinical safety reasons and since this time, there have been three independent clinical reviews. There has also been an invited Royal College of Surgery review. All reviews confirmed that complex emergency surgery at the Alexandra Hospital needed to be relocated.
“It is correct to state that the Trust did not run a competitive procurement to select Worcestershire Bowel clinic as its endoscopy provider and there was no requirement to do so.
“Outsourcing to this provider was originally initiated by South Worcestershire CCG and we were advised to send 300 patients initially to assist with increasing demand and shortfall in capacity.
“The outsourcing has continued as a result of the on-going Bowel Cancer awareness campaigns.
“We remain committed to patient safety and openly discussing and resolving concerns. We are continuing to invest in our services and look for ways to reduce the numbers of patients that are sent to private providers each month to receive their treatment. Our priority is and remains patient safety.”