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Health chiefs to face GP takeover grilling

Campaigners ramp up pressure over US giant’s control of surgeries

12 March, 2021 — By Calum Fraser

NHS campaigners, from left: Dr Graham Winyard, Professor Allyson Pollock, Dr Colin Hutchinson and Professor Sue Richards, who will today ask why a US corporation has been allowed to run GP surgeries here

HEALTH chiefs will face mounting pressure today (Friday) to explain how a US corporation was allowed to seize control of dozens of GP surgeries across the capital, including two in Islington.

In a deputation to north London’s health authorities, NHS campaigners will argue that American companies have been welcomed in, using deals that nobody has a chance to oppose or even debate publicly, to become England’s “biggest single provider” of GP practices in the process.

The showdown is due to take place today (Friday) in front of a scrutiny committee of the North Central London (NCL) Joint Health and Over­view Scrutiny Committee (JHOSC).

Professor Sue Richards will ask for all patients at the affected surgeries to receive letters explaining the switch which saw US insurers Centene Corporation move in. This would include those who use Hanley Primary Care Centre in Finsbury Park, and the Mitchison Road Surgery, off Essex Road in Canonbury, which were part of the deal.

Hanley Primary Care Centre in Finsbury Park

These surgeries and many others in London were gradually bought up by a company called AT Medics Ltd. But last year Operose Health, a UK subsidiary of Centene Corporation, assumed control of the NHS-funded contracts from AT Medics Ltd.

Prof Richards said: “It is inconceivable that the CCG [Clinical Commissioning Group] would have selected a subsidiary of Centene Corp in open competition. Its track record in the USA would have ruled it out.”

She said a “less objectionable, locally based company” had secured the contracts only for Centene to come in later and seize the surgeries.

“We believe this is not unconnected to the desire to have a free trade deal with the USA and to demonstrate that US health interests would be welcome,” she added.

The “change of control” was initially waved through at a meeting of the NCL Primary Care Commissioning Committee (PCC) in December when neither elected representatives from Islington nor the public were able to join live.

Mitchison Road Surgery

A recording was later uploaded online. Any mention of Centene was confined to a part of the meeting which was “not made available to the public” and from which all non-voting members were excluded, Prof Richards claims.

“How will they [the Clinical Commissioning Group] seek to restore the broken trust of leading members of the local authority, with whom forthcoming legislation requires them to work in partnership, and how will they restore the trust of the wider public?” she will say today.

“Will the CCG write to members of the public covered by these eight practices, explaining what has happened and also that they have a choice about which practice they wish to use, and further explain how they should go about transferring elsewhere?”

Five GP surgeries in neighbouring Camden have also fallen under Centene’s control in the deal, including the King’s Cross Road surgery, which also has patients from Islington.

The public can virtually attend the JHOSC meeting at 10am.

A spokeswoman for Operose Health said: “At the beginning of February, AT Medics and Operose Health created a new partnership which is committed to achieving high-quality clinical outcomes and standards of care for our patients and communities.

“Day-to-day operations of Operose Health and AT Medics GP surgeries, the care that we deliver to our patients and the services accessed through our surgeries will not change.

“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.”

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