Health secretary faces calls to ‘halt’ seizing of surgeries by giant US corp
New Journal broke the news last month that control of four surgeries had been switched
04 March, 2021 — By Tom Foot
Health secretary Matt Hancock
THE row over a US health insurer’s takeover of GP surgeries in Camden has ended up in parliament – with Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged to intervene to “halt” the deal.
The New Journal revealed two weeks ago how subsidiary of the Centene Corporation had seized control of NHS contracts without any public debate or scrutiny.
On Thursday, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth raised the issue in the House of Commons as he faced his government counterpart. He told Mr Hancock there was a “huge implication for patient care” and called for greater scrutiny of “stealth privatisation”.
Centene, one of the biggest health insurance companies in the US, now has control of four Camden practices through its wholly-owned subsidiary
Operose Health UK. It was given the green light to run Somers Town Medical Centre, Brunswick Medical Centre, King’s Cross Surgery and Community Health Improvement Practice for homeless patients in Hampstead Road.
A campaign meeting has been called by the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition and a demonstration is being planned for outside the offices of Operose Health, in Fitzrovia.
Mr Ashworth asked Mr Hancock during their to-and-fro at the despatch box: “In London, GP services of 375,000 patients were taken over by the US health insurance corp Centene. There was no patient consultation. There was no public scrutiny. “Will he step in? Halt the transfer, ensure it is fully securitised and prevent takeovers like this happening in the future?”
Mr Hancock – one of the faces of the government’s response to the coronavirus – did not answer the question directly, but said: “We have seen again and again, especially throughout the pandemic, that what matters to people is the quality of care. That is what we should look out for.” Operose also has the contract to run the borough’s “extended hours” service, which operates out of four more practices in Camden.
The change in control – from AT Medics, which already ran the practices, to the new company – was effectively approved by North Central London Clinical Commissioning Groups in December.
Last week, Holborn and St Pancras MP Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, wrote to NCL outlining his “concerns” about the legal process behind the decision. He has yet to get a reply, but the health funding decision-making authority has responded to Professor Sue Richards, from Keep Our NHS Public, in an email outlining why there was no legal basis for rejecting the change.
Sir Keir Starmer
Paul Sinden, NCL chief operating officer, said AT Medics practices had been performing “above the national average” in various markers, adding: “The request for change of control to another company is permissible, therefore the CCG has to consider a contract holder’s request. There are not immediate grounds for refusal.”
Operose Health, formerly called Centene UK, boasts a board of directors with in-depth experience of negotiating the complex world of NHS procurement. Its chief executive Samantha Jones was, before joining the company, Director of New Care Models at NHS England. While the change in control may be ticking all the right boxes, the concept of one of the biggest US corporations having a stake in the National Health Service has outraged anti-privatisation campaigners.
George Binette, a former Camden Unison branch secretary, said: “This latest example of accelerating NHS privatisation calls for unequivocal and determined opposition to Operose’s takeover. As active, if retired, members of Camden we urge fellow trade unionists and local residents to sign the petition from the ‘We Own It’ campaign and to consider joining a socially distanced protest outside Operose’s offices.”
AT Medics managing director Omar Din, who also now sits on the Operose Health board, said: “Day-to-day operations of our GP surgeries, the care that we deliver to our patients and the services accessed through our surgeries are not being changed. Patients will continue to consult with us in the same way that they do today.”
A spokesperson for Operose Health said: “We have followed all the required regulatory procedures, including obtaining consent from our CCGs. As a provider of NHS services, care remains free at the point of delivery. In addition, and as with all other GP services throughout the country, we will continue to be regulated and inspected by the Care Quality Commission. Our focus has been and will remain ensuring we provide high quality care for the populations we serve.”
The Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition public meeting is online from 4pm on March 16.
Centene Corp, has not responded to requests for comment from the New Journal.