SHOCKING failings behind an NHS decision to hand care for 63,000 people to a private company have been revealed.

A damning new report exposes the fiasco after Oxfordshire health bosses handed physiotherapy services for the county to Healthshare Ltd.

The contract switch ultimately led to physio services being cut from Wantage and Abingdon community hospitals completely and a string of other patient complaints.

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Now an official review has revealed that health bosses dramatically under-represented the number of people getting physio by 20,000 a year before handing the service over to the private firm.

Physiotherapy is used by doctors to help restore movement and function when someone has an injury, illness or disability. It can also help to reduce the risk of injury or illness in the future.

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The decision to put the service out to tender in 2017 was taken by Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) – the board of county GPs who decide how NHS cash is used to buy services locally.

Until that point, physio had been provided at 13 locations by two NHS boards: Oxford University Hospitals trust, which runs the John Radcliffe and the other major hospitals in Oxford, and Oxford Health, which runs mental health services and community hospitals.

The CCG wanted to get the service cheaper than those two NHS trusts were offering, so it gave it to Healthshare on a five-year contract.

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The contract switch almost immediately led to services being cut at Wantage and Abingdon after Oxford Health – which owns both sites – refused to let Healthshare use its facilities.

Losing physiotherapy was another nail in the coffin of Wantage hospital which has seen almost all services stripped back over the past decade.

Since it took over, Healthshare has been bombarded with criticism over long waits for treatment, poor communication and a complicated and confusing referral system.

The high level of complaints is what prompted the new investigation into the contract transfer by Oxfordshire's Joint Health and Overview Scrutiny Committee (HOSC): a board of county councillors and health professionals.

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The entrance to Abingdon hospital.

The HOSC task group report has now revealed a dysfunctional process as the CCG handed the contract to Healthshare.

The report authors discovered that the CCG had drastically underestimated the number of patients who would be using the service by about 20,000 – a third – per year.

Meanwhile the CCG in turn claimed the two hospital trusts had ‘not been honest’ about waiting list size and the number of outstanding referrals at the time.

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The authors said the failings led to ‘confusion and frustration’ for patients.

Responding to the report in a joint statement, the CCG, OUH and Oxford Health said the report had misrepresented the hard work they had made to 'ensure a smooth transition' of the service.

The statement read: “On reflection some of the wording in the published report attributed to Oxfordshire CCG does not reflect the efforts made by all to ensure a smooth transition of musculoskeletal services and the current level of joint working underway.

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“The CCG’s views as first expressed in the HOSC report did not intend to imply any deliberate act by health provider colleagues.

“NHS partners welcome the review by the HOSC and recognise there were many learning points.

“NHS partners continue to be committed to working together for the benefit of patients in Oxfordshire; we can offer assurance of greater sharing of information and collective review before any big change in services.

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“The HOSC recommendation on a more collaborative approach to service provision recognised the progress in Oxfordshire in recent months and is a recommendation we continue to build on.”

A report in October 2018 by health watchdog Healthwatch Oxfordshire had also highlighted a number of concerns raised by patients over physiotherapy services in the county.

Speaking at the time, Healthshare Ltd director Neil Cook said he welcomed the Healthwatch report adding: "We hope to work more closely with Healthwatch and patient groups to continually improve the service, and thank Healthwatch for the report, which will inform several immediate improvements."