DEAR editor,

Following the letter in last week’s Somerset County Gazette about the Rutherford Diagnostics Centre, we are keen to address some of the information provided which was inaccurate and to clarify the important role that the centre plays in the care and treatment of people in Somerset.

The Rutherford Diagnostic Centre Somerset in Taunton is the first community diagnostics centre of its kind in England – run by Rutherford Diagnostics Limited, a subsidiary of Rutherford Health PLC in partnership with Somerset NHS Foundation Trust.

Modern healthcare has changed in terms of the types of examinations people now have to enable as early a diagnosis of problems to be provided. This means that there has been a change from plain X Rays to more complex examinations including Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) , Computed Tomography (CT) and Ultrasound. Like many Trusts across the NHS, we have needed to use private providers of Imaging services to support the increase in such examinations which includes use of mobile scanners which can only do limited types of examinations and are not always a great experience for patients.

The partnership with Rutherford Diagnostics was developed because, despite our investment in the MRI and CT scanners installed at Musgrove Park Hospital, it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep pace with the significant increase in demand.

The partnership aims to reduce the number of NHS patients who are waiting too long for a diagnostic test, to support timely diagnosis. By developing this partnership, we have been able to increase our diagnostic capacity for both MRI and CT by 25%. When the centre first opened in September 2021, there were 7,375 patients waiting for a diagnostic test, with 3,378 of them waiting longer than the government target of six weeks. In just three months, we’ve been able to reduce the number of patients waiting longer than six weeks to 2,640. Over the coming weeks additional capacity will be available at the centre to further support diagnostic waiting times.

Patient care has improved through a wider range of outpatient radiology examinations away from Musgrove Park Hospital to other community settings such as Bridgwater Hospital and this new Diagnostic Centre in Taunton. Access to these centres is much easier for patients with easier parking and a much more comfortable environment. Investment has been made by the NHS for the provision of this and other similar services across the country.

The combined staffing model has been at the heart of the partnership from the outset, based on an integrated staffing model with NHS and private colleagues working side by side. This provides specialist skills, additional training opportunities and career development, as well as supporting teams on both sites to increase the capacity of diagnostic appointments that can be offered. In addition, the agreement between Rutherford and the Trust means we are paid for any staff who work at this centre, enabling us to recruit more staff than we have previously, and helps to support the stability of our local NHS workforce.

More information about the Rutherford partnership is available on our website.

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust