Where are all the promised Community Diagnostic Centres?

It’s been revealed that only a quarter of the 69 newly promised NHS diagnostic centres announced by the health secretary last month are really open.

On February 8, Sajid Javid informed
Parliament that dozens of “new
community diagnostic clinics” have
“already opened across England in
convenient locations such as shopping
malls and car parks,” and that they will be a “key” component of action to clear NHS waiting lists and boost cancer screening
access.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England, however, were unable to identify the 69 centres or offer evidence to support the health secretary’s claim. The Government instead referred to a speculative list of 57sites that were supposed to be introduced in October. However few of these actually appear to be in open or offering anything like the services promised as of 2022.

A scanning MRI unit in a CDC
A scanning MRI unit in a CDC

The majority of the 17 sites set up, looked to have considerable private involvement. At least one is a joint venture between a private equity firm and a parent company whose board of directors includes a
Conservative Party donor.

Tony O’Sullivan, co-chair of Keep of NHS Public said that their pressure group already received over 40 hospitals’ exaggerated allegations and the bulk of these new diagnostic centres do not exist,
and those that do are largely in private hands, rather than increasing NHS capacity or offering new comprehensive services.

The DHSC kept referring investigators to NHS England, claiming that it was “ideally suited” to provide us with a list of the centres.

However, NHS England appeared to be in the dark as well, referring solely to the DHSC’s reduced list of 57 upcoming diagnostic centre projects announced in a press release in October.

Only nine of the NHS organisations in charge of services in the locations named indicated they had working community diagnostic centres when contacted. Eight of them indicated their ‘centres’ were either privately managed mobilescanners in lorries or freshly expanded clinic hours.

Poole Beales, where a new CDC is giving ophthalmology testing and breast screening to NHS patients in a shopping complex, provided the strongest evidence of the government’s assertions about high-street community diagnostic centres (CDCs).

Furthermore, evidence has been discovered of half a dozen NHS sites on the list providing new “extended” or “enhanced”
diagnostic services, including the Nightingale Hospital in Exeter, a centre in east London set to openin 2020, and others that appeared to be mostly private
scanning units that are merely parked on hospital grounds.

The investigation team also came across three working centres that appeared to be fully run by private health companies.

Six of the projects specifically said that their CDCs would not be open by the end of the month. The projects in Wood Green,
Telford, Bodmin, and Oldham all said they were “on track” or “due” to open in summer 2022, with the exception of the Oldham
project, which said preparations were “in an early stage” and that “the groundbreaking ceremony and hasn’t happened yet.”

Both Bolton and Humber said they couldn’t specify when their diagnostic centres will open, with the latter noting, “Apologies, there is no community diagnostic hub as of yet.”

They informed investigators that the plans for the CDCs were part of a five-year strategy. Six of the projects specifically
said that their CDCs would not be open by the end of the month.

Several additional CDC initiatives were unable to confirm any new offer to patients at this time, but stated that something would be made available in the future.

Derbyshire said work “to get the funding utilised” for undefined “added services” before the end of March was “ongoing,” and the New QEII hospital in Welwyn Garden City stated it “anticipated” to have somewhat extended hours in operation by the end of March.

Leicester just said, “I’m informed the service would be on our site,” while Sussex Health said the upgrades would be “phased over the following three years.”

Twenty-three of the CDC project centres, more than half of the 42 identified by the DHSC last year –were unable or unwilling to
furnish any evidence that they
operated or planned to operate acommunity diagnostic centre.

Some were eager to speak with us at first, only to backtrack later: Corbett Hospital, for example, said “we’d love to help, we’re extremely proud of our CDC,” but then told us we’d have to file a Freedom of Information request to find out what new services, if any, were already available.

A number of Javid’s other centres are also thought to refer to new or expanded services within existing hospitals, albeit no evidence of this could be uncovered.

Many of the project regions appear to have released very little public information or only the most rudimentary briefings
about the progress of their CDCs.

Bath, for example, did not respond to a request for information but issued a press statement that it was looking into progressing plans for using the previously privately run Sullis Hospital for its CDC Centre.

More than half of the project areas refused to answer any questions about private sector provision, but the majority of the 19 that did confirmed that some services, such as MRI and CT scans, endoscopies, and blood
tests, had been outsourced to the private sector. In at least one instance, the response provided contradicted publicly available data.

Local NHS commissioners told reporters that the services at Brighton Football Ground, a high-profile CDC frequently
mentioned by Javid, were “NHS services and NHS provision” – yevtthe Care Quality Commission notes the location is administered by Medical Imaging Partnership, which says the same on its own website.

Rutherford Diagnostics manages the CDC in Somerset. Last November, Boris Johnson paid a visit to Rutherford’s Somerset centre and lauded its model.

The Somerset location is the “first of five” that Rutherford hopes to open in collaboration with private equity firm Equitix. Reade Griffiths, a Tory contributing doner, serves on the board of directors of Tetragon, the firm’s owner.

Rutherford refused to say if the Somerset centre was still open or answer any questions, despite the fact that material on
the internet says it is. Perspectum, a US company, operates another centre in an
Oxford business park.

Practice Plus (formerly Care UK), HCRG (formerly Virgin Care), Health Share, Cobalt Health, Medneo, GP Primary, Remedy Healthcare, Partnering Health/PHL, Central Surrey Health, Living Well, Physiological Measurements Limited/PML, Endocare, and Imaging Matters are among the companies involved in, or planning to be involved in, other centres on the NHS list.

Several NHS areas stated that they were paying the private sector to set up mobile scanning units on their grounds in order to comply with COVID prevention guidelines, which state that diagnostic centres must have a separate entrance such that neither staff nor patients attending the hub are required toenter the main hospital building.

“What’s going on is parasitism — draining billions of pounds out of the NHS,” Keep Our NHS Public pressure group stated. They said the corporate sector is perfectly content for the NHS to be left weaker but not dead, and that the NHS is being used as a £150 billion funding ‘cash cow’ that the Government can tap whenever they want.

A variety of prominent electronics manufacturers, such as Siemens and Royal Phillips, have always offered scanners and
other diagnostic machines. However, because private companies are now administering these units rather than just developing their equipment, the government’s £10 billion investment in the CDC plan will benefit the private sector even more.

A online search for “community diagnostic centres” turns up a slew of commercial websites thattout “ready to deploy” diagnostic devices.

InHealth, for example, has been operating mobile scanning units for some years and now has 11 private diagnostic centres.

“All of our centres can be NHS-branded,” it says on its website.

The launch of community diagnostic centres were described by trade newspaper
Healthcare Markets UK as “ushering in a new dawn for partnerships between the independent sector and the NHS” it said.

A online search for “community diagnostic centres” turns up a slew of commercial websites that tout “ready to deploy” diagnostic devices.

InHealth, for example, has been operating mobile scanning units for some years and now has 11 private diagnostic centres.

“All of our centres can be NHS-branded,” it says on its website.

The launches of community diagnostic centres were described by trade newspaper Healthcare Markets UK as “ushering in a new dawn for partnerships between the independent sector and the NHS” in September. The newspaper said the “exciting advances” would give the private sector “substantial opportunity” to “play a crucial role in the investment, design, and
implementation of these new services”

There are also indications that this could go beyond diagnostic services.For example, Rutherford and technology vendor Philips have a ten-year “strategic collaboration.”

That company claims to be “partnering with healthcare providers to pioneer Community Diagnostic Centres (CDC),” and its “ultimate ambition” is for privately run centres to offer a much broader range of services to NHS patients such as “Cardiovascular, fitness, wellness, and health themes in radiology, cardiology, oncology, respiratory medicine, and sleep medicine.”

They could also help […] general practise, pharmacy, and tele-dentistry services, which would benefit the elderly and people
with underlying health issues by boosting access to professional health services while minimising travel.”

Last week, pharmacy chain Boots(which is now controlled by Walgreens), told MPs that it was in talks with “partners” to rebrand some of its locations as community diagnostic centres.

Boots in a statement said it was looking to expand its present pharmacy
services by offering beyond just pharmacy and is looking into general healthcare according to the company’s healthcare director.

The £10 billion pledged to “expand diagnostic capacity” is roughly three times the £3.7 billion allocated to the Conservative Party’s divisive promise of “40 new hospitals.”

Bids for the financing from existing NHS hospital trusts have been heavily oversubscribed, with nine out of 10 expected to be unsuccessful in the latest
round.

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