Head of NHS England challenged on alleged ‘burial’ of child cancer services report

The head of NHS England has been challenged over a decision not to publish a report which revealed concerns about children’s cancer care in London.

The February 2015 report by Professor Mike Stevens and nine other cancer experts highlighted the challenges posed by the “fragmentation” of specialist care in the capital.

It recommended a single site model for all child cancer treatment, including critical care, to avoid patients being transferred between hospitals.

The Stevens report was first made public earlier this month, following an investigation into cancer services by the Health Service Journal (HSJ).

Simon Stevens (pictured), chief executive of NHS England, was asked why the report was allegedly “shelved” as he gave evidence to MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee on Tuesday.

Committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston, referencing the HSJ articles, said there was “an important issue around co-locating intensive care facilities alongside children’s cancer services”.

She highlighted there had been “a great deal of concern” about sick children being transferred from the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust site in Sutton, Surrey, which some times had “tragic consequences”.

The independent MP asked Mr Stevens who made the decision not to publish the Stevens report.

She referenced “scathing” comments by Andy Mitchell, formerly NHS England’s London medical director, who she said described it as a “bureaucratic burial of a major review”.

The Stevens report said that the complexity of the specialist care model required good governance, excellent care and a commitment to follow policies and procedures.

It added: “Serious clinical events have occurred in London which relate to failures in these areas and have highlighted the need for this review.”

Dr Wollaston said on Tuesday: “The impression that we get from a number of people is that this was a really important report that has been shelved in a way that has lead to very serious consequences for children.”

Mr Stevens said the Care Quality Commission had inspected the children’s care services at the Royal Marsden, rating them as “good”.

According to NHS England records, The Stevens report was looked at by its Specialised Services Commissioning Committee and then remitted to the Independent Cancer Task Force, Mr Stevens explained.

He said at the time of the report there was “no professional consensus” about the future of the treatment model in London, with three quarters of NHS organisations in the capital backing the current number of treatment centres for children.

“Clearly there were good reasons in favour of what the report said, made in good faith, but there was no consensus across London on that point,” he said.

Dr Wollaston said MPs had been told there was “compelling” data of the need to co-locate services, raised concerns about the “watering down” of standards and asked if Mr Stevens would personally look at this.

“I think it absolutely should be looked at and that’s why this question is currently out to extensive public consultation,” Mr Stevens said.

He said he had asked Professor Sir Mike Richards, the former chief inspector of hospitals, to review the responses to an ongoing consultation on cancer services for children, teenagers and young adults.

Professor Richards will publicly report back to the NHS England Board, Mr Stevens added.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire.