• Professor Sir Mike Richards will report to NHS England board in public over next steps
  • NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said records could not establish how decision not to publish 2015 report was reached
  • MPs question Mr Stevens over NHS England’s openness and transparency with journalists

Sir Mike Richards, former national cancer tsar and chief inspector of hospitals, has been asked by NHS England to carry out an independent review of child cancer standards.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens appeared before the Commons health committee this afternoon. He was quizzed by MPs on revelations by HSJ that clinicians had faced pressure to soften standards on the co-location of intensive care with paedatric cancer services, and that a major 2015 report had been buried.

Committee chair Sarah Wollaston MP raised the “watering down” of standards for child cancer and asked if this was something Mr Stevens would personally look at.

Mr Stevens said: “I think it absolutely should be looked at and [that is] why this question is out to extensive public consultation.”

He then revealed that he had: “asked Prof Sir Mike Richards, former chief inspector of hospitals and national cancer director, to review the consultation responses independently and to report to the NHS England board, in public, as to his view as to what has come back on the consultation and on the evidence of what is the best way forward”.

Mr Stevens confirmed current national cancer director Cally Palmer, chief executive of the Royal Marsden Foundation Trust, would recuse herself from any decisions.

She was accused of having a major conflict of interest over co-location of intensive care services last week because the Royal Marsden does not have an ITU and has to transfer children to other hospitals in south London.

Dr Wollaston asked who made the decision not to publish the 2015 report by Professor Mike Stevens into London’s paedatric cancer services. The NHS England chief executive said: “Given this was four years ago we have not been able to establish that from the records we have at our disposal.” But he pointed to minutes of an NHS England specialised services committee where a decision was taken to fold the report’s recommendations into the national cancer taskforce work.

Mr Stevens said he had read the report over the past weekend and he could see “why it was not a black and white question as to what should then follow”, citing several assertions NHS England has made to HSJ, albeit without context included in the 2015 report.

Referring to criticism by NHS England London medical director Andy Mitchell Sarah Wollaston said: “He is really quite scathing about this decision…The impression we get from a number of people is that this was a really important report that has been shelved in a way that has led to very serious consequences for children.”

Mr Stevens repeated that the CQC had rated the Royal Marsden’s service as safe.