Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Spending your money wisely

Department of Health Spending Plans

Today I visited the Aston Villa Football Club directors suite for a bit of lunch courtesy of MercuryHealth.
I have mentioned MercuryHealth previously. This company won the contract to provide diagnostic services to the West Midlands as part of NuLabours 2nd wave independant sector contracts. The government has commissioned them to carry out up to 190,000 procedures per year including almost 70,000 MRI scans. The scans are provided by a fleet of 9 mobile MRI scanners and 1 mobile CT scanner each with 2 trailers of supporting facilities.
You might think this is an expensive service to provide, and you would be right. Fortunately, for MercuryHealth, their set up costs have been met by our generous taxpayers who have even guaranteed 80% of projected income over the next 5 years.
We are told that the introduction of the private sector shifts the financial risk away from the taxpayer. We know that has not been true for PFI hospitals and we can see it isn't true with 2nd wave diagnostic centres. We are also told that the NHS is expensive and inefficient and that the private sector would introduce efficiency savings and do the work better and at lower cost. Let us see how true this is.
MercuryHealth was due to start providing its service in April 2007 but the launch was delayed until June 2007. Today we were given the activity figures for the first 3 full months of operation. Total MRI scans for September was 154. That is 9 scanners working 12 hours per day 6 days a week. For comparison, our inefficient NHS unit does 16-20 scans per day on one scanner. Of more interest were the CT scan figures. For the last 3 full months of operation MercuryHealth has carried out 1 scan. That isn't a typo; 1 scan. That is a fully staffed mobile unit with two supporting trailers over a three month period. Our NHS unit does around 25 scans per day and provides an out of hours service. It isn't Mercury's fault. This government was warned that private sector involvement was not needed and not wanted. They were told that what was needed was adequate funding of the NHS units but they had their own agenda (para 139) and went ahead regardless.
Still, I don't think Mercury will be that upset about this because they are being paid anyway. In fact the payment-by-results tariff system means they are paid as much for every patient they do not scan as the NHS unit is paid for every patient we do scan.
To add the final insult to the assembled audience, some letters, allegedly from grateful patients and GPs, were read out. They praised Mercury for the service they provided. I'm not surprised. If we were scanning our only patient in three months at UK-radiology I would treat both the patient and the referrer to a Champagne reception and a night of debauchery at Hereford's finest lap-dancing club. And I wouldn't expect the taxpayer to pick up the tab.


. said...

Can we postulate on what the findings of El Gordo's CT Head would be.

Then right hand elf Darzi may well require a PET scan.

Shameless self publicist :)

. said...

PS By the way, tapping my paws here waiting for my milk tray expenses !

By the way, you make it to the Pirate Brit Meds this week as well cause you are a brilliant writer. Get yourself onto HD and tell them to give you a column.


Dr Ray said...

Thank you Rita. Please don't ask me to keep it up all week.
Your side-to-side of His Imperial Ambassador and the elf was very funny. Lots og people have been asking where he suddenly appeared from and now we know. Why don't you send it to Private Eye? You might need to flip Darzi over but there would be a lot of medical folk willing to give you a hand with this if you need it.