Plans to bring one of the world’s most advanced health scanners to Edinburgh risk creating a two-tier NHS, senior health economist, Professor Allyson Pollock, warned yesterday.
The equipment at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary will be helping to diagnose heart problems by the end of the year.
NHS Lothian said that the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) announced that it was investing almost £4m ‘to support the acquisition of a state of the art scanner’.
The health authority added: ‘In a unique partnership, RBS will fund the acquisition and contribute to the ongoing operating costs, with 25% of the scanner’s capacity being made available to RBS staff.
‘The remaining 75% will be split between QMRI (Queen’s Medical Research Institute) and NHS Lothian.’
Pollock, head of Edinburgh University Centre for International Public Health Policy, described the scheme as ‘philanthropy with conditions’.
A spokesperson for BMA Scotland said: ‘Investing in state of the art technology for the NHS is something that should be welcomed.
‘However, access to screening services should be based on clinical need.
‘It is not clear why employees of the Royal Bank of Scotland should be prioritised for access to this new facility in Edinburgh, nor is it clear who is responsible for meeting the running costs for the services to RBS employees.
‘Funding or donations to the NHS should not come with conditions or clauses that restrict patient access.’
UNISON Scotland secretary, Matt Smith, told News Line yesterday: ‘We have serious concerns about paying for the running of the machine and staffing costs – where is the rest of the money going to come from.
‘RBS is only funding the equipment and “contributing” to the operating costs.
‘I would also agree with Allyson Pollock’s concerns about a two-tier health service.
‘The NHS should be available on grounds of need for all, not be a priority for some because their company paid for equipment.
‘RBS staff have an equal right to NHS treatment and the scanners will be available for them in any case.’
Pollock told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme: ‘The whole point is that we have equal access on the basis of need.
‘Introducing this system of public private partnership actually undermines that because some people are going to have better access with lesser needs than others.’
She also questioned whether there was a commercial contract underpinning the gift.
NHS Lothian medical director Charles Swainson denied there was any contract.
Dismissing her concerns as ‘nonsense’, he said there was simply an agreement about how the scanner would be used.
The row has prompted independent MSP Margo MacDonald to demand clear guidelines on commercial sector donations of health equipment by the Scottish Parliament.
MacDonald, the independent MSP for the Lothians, said: ‘I’m putting a motion down for the parliament, suggesting that before we stray into this territory of conditional charity or gifts to the NHS, we should debate what the ground rules are going to be.’
The Toshiba scanner, which has taken ten years and £250m to develop, is said to be a major change in the field of CT (computerised axial tomography) scanning technology.
Unlike previous scanners, it can capture entire organs such as the heart or brain in a fraction of a second.
Given the novel method of image capture, radiation exposure is reduced by approximately 80% compared with conventional CT scans.