Sciensus: NHS-contracted company has license suspended after death of cancer patient

By Wedaeli Chibelushi, Multimedia Producer

A private company contracted by the NHS to deliver vital medications has had its licence "partially suspended" after a client with cancer died.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) began investigating Sciensus earlier this month after an "incident" at the company's manufacturing unit led to a cancer patient dying and three other patients being admitted to hospital.

Sciensus delivers specialised medications to people with chronic illnesses - including HIV, cancer and haemophilia - and says it "works with every NHS Trust in the country".

Concluding its investigation, the MHRA found that an issue with Sciensus' IT systems meant the four patients in question were given incorrect strengths of chemotherapy medicine cabazitaxel.

Dr Laura Squire, MHRA Chief Healthcare Access and Quality Officer said: "After conducting an inspection of Sciensus manufacturing facilities, we have partially suspended their manufacturing licence due to significant deficiencies in relation to Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards.

“This immediate partial suspension is a result of identified concerns with one aspect of the set-up of their IT system and will remain in place until corrective actions are implemented.

"The company has implemented the necessary corrective actions to ensure that products which are already on their IT system can continue to be manufactured. There is no evidence to suggest that any of their existing products are unsafe or of unacceptable quality.

“We are in regular contact with the company and continue to investigate this issue. We will take any further regulatory measures as needed to ensure patients are protected.”

Following the MHRA's decision, a Sciensus spokesperson said: “As soon as the incident was discovered, we identified the issue and immediately advised the MHRA.

"The MHRA has conducted an inspection and partially suspended our new product set-up. This does not affect existing products, which will continue as normal.”

It's not the first time Sciensus has drawn the attention of regulators.

In April, both the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) said they were considering regulatory action when approached with findings from an ITV News investigation into Sciensus.

Some Sciensus patients said they had been rushed to hospital because of weeks-long delays in delivering their medications.

Some Sciensus patients told ITV News they had been rushed to hospital and left bedridden because of weeks-long delays in delivering their medication. The series of reports also found chronically-ill children were among those said to be impacted.

Peers carrying out an ongoing parliamentary inquiry into homecare medicines services like Sciensus heard that such problems may exist throughout the sector.

There are 12 providers in England - together they're paid over one billion pounds of public money each year to deliver medications and related care to around 500,000 people.

On June 14, in the first inquiry hearing, Ruth Wakeman from Crohn’s & Colitis UK, Sarah Campbell from the British Society for Rheumatology and NHS consultant Dr Christian Selinger said "systemic" issues within the sector have lead to significant amounts of patient suffering and wasted NHS resources.

In another hearing, Alison Davis, chair of industry body the National Clinical Homecare Association, recognised some providers had "encountered issues to a lesser or greater extent over the time period".

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.