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Millions wasted in oxygen fiasco

Reform of home oxygen provision sends costs soaring as GPs resort to emergency orders


The Government's botched reforms of home oxygen provision have wasted millions of pounds of NHS cash, a Pulse investigation reveals.

The chaotic transfer from pharmacist to private provision has sent costs spiralling as GPs have resorted to ordering cylinders under expensive emergency arrangements.

Primary care organisations are facing overspends on home oxygen averaging £210,000 for the current financial year – with some up to four times over budget.

GPs warned trusts would claw back cash from prescribing budgets. And they angrily rejected accusations that they were to blame for the chaos, after leading supplier Air Products claimed 25 per cent of all ordering forms had been filled out inaccurately.

One GP who wanted to remain anonymous said: 'This is obvious cobblers and Air Products must be killing themselves laughing at the pillocks who negotiated this deal. This is not a local problem but a national disgrace.'

All 35 PCOs that provided

information to Pulse predicted substantial overspends – equivalent to £37m if our figures were extrapolated across England and Wales.

Cornwall PCT alone is predicting a £1.2m overspend on a £380,000 budget.

Costs have soared because of the expense of running dual systems during the chaos of the handover, in which several patients died, as well as too much use of cylinders rather than concentrators and high charges for emergency ordering.

GPs said there had also been a failure to set up assessment centres under the new system – with some patients being prescribed oxygen unnecessarily.

Air Products claimed the Government had seriously underestimated demand for oxygen, which had been 25 per cent higher than forecast.

But the company, which held six of the original 12 regional supply contracts in England, has seen its South-West contract shifted to BOC.

Dr Peter Fellows, chair of the GPC prescribing subcommittee, said: 'Any overspend is a matter of serious concern to us. The PCTs expected to save money under this system [but] pharmacists did a lot of work that was essentially unpaid. These big commercial organisations are not going to do work for free.'

Sandra Gidley, a Liberal Democrat health spokesperson and member of the Commons health select committee, said an inquiry might be needed: 'The Government seem hell bent on large contracts, which they claim make efficiency savings. They don't.'

The Department of Health said it had expected extra costs from 'variations in supplier prices' and that there had been 79,000 patients using the service, compared with projections of 60,000. But it insisted the new service would improve patient assessment, expand the range of equipment available and support patient mobility.

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