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‘We must unite to fend off GP surgeries takeover by US companies’

Campaigners opposed to health privatisation are set to picket practices

19 March, 2021 — By Tom Foot

NHS campaigners outside the Mitchison Road surgery on Wednesday

PROFIT-making US health firms will make further inroads into the NHS if patients, unions and politicians do not unite against privatisation, a public meeting heard this week.

More than 100 campaigners joined online on Tuesday to raise their concerns about the Centene Corporation takeover of dozens of doctors’ surgeries, including two in Islington and four in Camden.

A series of pickets is being planned outside GP practices – with the first at the Mitchison Road Surgery.

Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition chairwoman Shirley Franklin, who organised the Londonwide meeting, said: “We pay for the NHS and these private companies want to take that money away as profits. It’s an absolute disgrace and we need to show them up. We may not be able to stop this takeover, but we need to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

“There is a reason these GPs are getting bought up by firms like this – they are not funded properly. The whole management of the NHS is not fit for purpose.”

Ms Franklin said the campaign was organising leaflets and posters to give to patients at the surgeries about the potential impact of privatisation on reducing services. A “cavalcade” touring demonstration stopping off at all the affected surgeries was also suggested at the meeting.

The Tribune revealed last month how two surgeries in Islington, run by the company AT Medics, had been taken over by Operose Health, a wholly owned subsidiary of Centene – one of the biggest US health insurance companies. The change in control at Mitchison Road and the Hanley Primary Care had been waved through by NHS clinical commissioning group (CCG) chiefs without public debate or scrutiny. The firm also took four services in neighbouring Camden, including the King’s Cross Surgery which is used by patients on both sides of the borough borders.

Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition chairwoman Shirley Franklin

Our story led to Labour shadow health secretary John Ashworth asking Matt Hancock to halt the process in the House of Commons. Professor Sue Richards, who is on the Keep Our NHS Public executive committee, said: “Hancock batted that away saying people don’t care about who delivers the service as long as they are provided with good services. But people do care. We haven’t gone through everything this last year for nothing. We need to harass the hell out of Centene, and our CCGs.”

Professor Richards said it was “completely shocking” that a company could “buy” another company and take over its NHS contracts unopposed, adding: “Community members did not know about this buyout until they saw it in the press.”

Islington councillor Nurullah Turan said he had been working with the CCG to “collaborate and work better” in the future, adding that the process had been “unacceptable”.

Fred Coford, a Labour campaigner from Islington South, told the meeting: “There’s real fury and I think we will build up a head of steam about this. People have real concerns.”

But the meeting heard how some felt Labour had nationally been “feeble” in opposing public sector privatisation over the past 20 years.

Public sector worker Nikki Muller said: “There should be outrage from the Labour Party. I’m so livid. We’re all getting taken for mugs, we’re all getting taken for a ride. We want an honest debate about how the NHS is run.”

TUC rep Steve Ballard, said: “One of things that hampered the campaign against academies [schools] and other things was the division, it does seem like this is being replicated here.”

The meeting heard a statement from Claire Dixon, from Whittington Unison, and nurse Janet Maiden from UCLH, against the takeover and the government’s “derisory” pay rise.

Operose Health and AT Medics have both previously told the Tribune that patients will not notice a change in their GP service and the change in control was within legal requirements.


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