Specialist cancer providers in talks with NHS over additional services during Covid-19 outbreak

Private healthcare providers are in discussions with the NHS over how they can support cancer patients during the Covid-19 outbreak.

In March, independent healthcare providers signed a deal with NHS England to turn over virtually all of their capacity to the NHS for a minimum of three months to help fight the pandemic. This includes care for Covid-19 patients as well as diagnostics and treatment to maintain urgent priority elective and cancer pathways.

However, the agreement did not include specialist cancer treatment providers GenesisCare and Rutherford Health. Both companies told HM they were making additional capacity available to the NHS to support cancer patients during the crisis.

GenesisCare, which has 14 centres across the UK, said it was holding ongoing talks with NHS England but that a deal had not yet been put in place.

A spokesperson for the company said its private referral pathways were operating as normal and ‘without delay’ and that it had expanded its diagnostic capacity to ensure symptomatic patients have immediate access, adding, ‘We are ready to support NHS England should they require it’.

Rutherford Health CEO Mike Moran told HM: ‘All Rutherford Cancer Centres are creating additional capacity to support NHS patients throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Our centres are fully operational in Newport (South Wales), Northumberland and Thames Valley.  We are also accelerating the commissioning at our Rutherford Cancer Centre in Liverpool to provide additional capacity.’

Moran said that each centre has the capacity to treat ‘several hundred’ patients during the pandemic but the exact number of NHS patients being referred had not yet been established.

There have been reports of delays to critical cancer care as the NHS focuses its resources on the Covid-19 crisis. Some stakeholders would like to see a fast and formal deal between the NHS and the private sector to ensure the continuity of care for patients and access to diagnostics.

Professor Gordon Wishart, chief medical officer at Check4Cancer, said he would like to see a protected network of private hospitals to manage both NHS and private patients with time critical diagnostics and treatment for cancer established by the end of May.

‘Depending on the length of this disruption to routine services, it is possible that delays to accurate diagnosis or best practice treatment could have a detrimental effect on outcomes and survival for cancer patients and we must therefore do all we can to keep pathways open for cancer diagnosis and treatment,’ he warned.

Rutherford Health said it continued to provide a full service to PMI and self-funding patients during the pandemic and was adding additional shifts to support NHS patients.

‘We already have NHS contracts across all of our Rutherford Cancer Centres where we deliver a service in collaboration with individual NHS Trusts and referring oncologists.  Processes, procedures and systems are already in place to ensure continuity of care which have been well exercised.  The Covid-19 pandemic changes nothing,’ added Moran.

The Independent Healthcare Providers Network said it had not been involved in brokering any specific cancer treatment agreement with the NHS.

CEO David Hare said; ‘There continues to be regular dialogue between government and the independent sector about what additional support may be needed but no deals other than those already announced in the normal way have been done.’