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Costs of home oxygen services spiral

The costs of providing home oxygen services have spiralled by more than 80% since the chaotic transfer from pharmacist to private providers, official figures show.

In total PCTs have spent nearly £177m on home oxygen services for patients following the Government's controversial decision to change from a pharmacist-run ordering system to a direct-ordering service run by private companies in February 2006.

Department of Health figures show that the average monthly cost of home oxygen provision in England in 2007 shot up by 58% – from £4,423,227 to £6,929,818 a month – following the costly transition period between March and October 2006 when the two systems ran in parallel.

Costs rose by a further 14%, to nearly £7,965,646 a month, between January and April 2008. Overall the national average monthly spend on home oxygen provision has risen by 81%.

News that the privatisation of oxygen services has increased costs has sparked outrage.

Sandra Gidley, Liberal Democrat shadow minister for health, told Pulse: ‘The figures represent Government arrogance. The Government was warned by GPs and pharmacists that the change would be expensive and detrimental to patient care and now things have come home to roost.

Dr Dermot Ryan, a member of the General Practice Airways Group and a GP in Loughborough, Leicestershire said: ‘We know that the government tried to rationalise things and that got off to a bad start, and they seemed to have continued in the same manner. There is little cohesion.

‘There is still marked evidence of inappropriate prescribing of short-burst oxygen initiated in secondary care by non-respiratory physicians. It seems haphazard and chaotic in its approach and is made all the more difficult by standardised prescribing forms.'

He added: ‘It demonstrates that unless the Department of Health discusses things with health care professionals then anything they do will be doomed to fail.'

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