PHYSIOTHERAPY services at Wantage and Abingdon could have been saved if the NHS trust which owns the town's hospitals had not refused to offer the space originally.

Healthshare, which took over running the countywide physio service this month, has revealed Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust initially refused to even discuss letting the company use the sites.

Company director Neil Cook said the trust only offered the use of those two sites seven days before the new contract was due to start, nowhere near enough time to get a service up and running.

Mr Cook said he was disappointed that his company was not now able to offer physio at Wantage and Abingdon and shared his sympathy with patients who now have to travel out of town.

Speaking exclusively to the Herald, Mr Cook said: "If Oxford Health had offered us Wantage hospital originally we would be there now.

"We were very keen to use that site, but right from the start we were told under no circumstances would that space be made available.

"They did offer four weeks on those sites as a transitional arrangement but there is just no point in us doing four weeks then leaving."

The contract for physiotherapy services is awarded by Oxfordshire's Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG), the board of county GPs which commissions (purchases) all NHS services for Oxfordshire.

This year, OCCG decided to award the contract for physiotherapy to Healthshare, a private health company which exclusively runs services for the NHS.

But OCCG does not get to decide how or where the service is run, and Mr Cook said that when his company went to Oxford Health to negotiate use of the sites where it was already running physio, the trust refused to discuss letting it carry on running the service at Wantage and Abingdon.

Then, Mr Cook said, following what he understood was pressure from the county's health watchdog Healthwatch, Oxford Health came back to Healthshare a week before the company was due to start running the service and offered the use of Wantage.

Having already spent months working out how to use the OCCG budget for physio to provide the best service at the sites it did have, Mr Cook explained it would have been impossible to set up a service at Wantage at such short notice.

Instead, Healthshare is now running a physiotherapy service at White Horse Medical Practice in Faringdon, Woodlands Practice in Didcot, Wallingford Community Hospital and Townlands Hospital in Henley.

Asked whether Healthshare might be able to consider offering physio at Wantage in the future, Mr Cook said he would like to, but said that extending the service his firm was now running would require more financial support from OCCG.

He said: "It would be great for patients and we would like support from OCCG to be able to do that, but it's not going to happen right now because we have had to accommodate the service.

"We understand people are very concerned about where they are going to be seen but right now our priority is to get people access to services quickly."

Oxford Health issued the following statement: "We understand that, as part of the tender process, providers propose locations where they will operate from and that this is not to be reliant upon the NHS estate in the case of a private company.

"It is therefore up to HealthShare to make arrangements for suitable accommodation (such as gyms and leisure centres) that best meet the needs of physiotherapy patients.

"After the decision was made by Oxfordshire CCG, we also received a request from HealthShare asking whether they could continue to provide these services from various locations across the county.  In each case, we assessed this against other demands on the estate.

"We have offered HealthShare continuing use of our Wallingford site, and it is our understanding that they will also continue to operate from Bicester, Henley and a variety of primary care sites which are leased from different landlords.

"In Abingdon and Witney we face significant space pressures and our estate can be put to better use supporting our other patient services on those sites. In Wantage we remain concerned about the risk of re-colonisation of legionella. However, we have initiated discussions with HealthShare to see if they would be happy to provide services from the site given this known risk."