Campaigners lose GP surgeries takeover High Court case – but vow to fight on

Tribune revealed how company owned by US giants Centene took control of practices

Friday, 25th February — By Tom Foot

Centene_Cllr Anjna Kurana joins a protest outside the High Court

Cllr Anjna Khurana joins a protest outside the High Court

THE fight against NHS privatisation will continue despite a defeat this week in the High Court, campaigners say.

A judicial review which argued US health insurance giant Centene Corporation had managed the takeover of GP surgeries in Islington without public scrutiny or wider tests was dismissed by a senior judge.

It had been brought by patient and Labour councillor Anjna Khurana and backed by groups including Doctors in Unite and Keep Our NHS Public. Cllr Khurana said she was “disappointed” and was “considering next steps”.

The Tribune had revealed the change of control at Hanley Medical Practice and Mitchison Road Surgery from AT Medics to a company wholly owned by Centene back in February 2021.

Mitchison Road Surgery

Four services in neighbouring Camden have also been affected in the same way.

This triggered questions from senior councillors about why they had been left out of the loop, before the story caught national attention.

The then health secretary, Matt Hancock, was quizzed about the US involvement in the NHS in the House of Commons and it was twice debated in the Lords.

There have been protests outside surgeries and petitions that have been signed by tens of thousands of supporters.

Cllr Khurana’s legal team at Leigh Day solicitors had argued there had been no real consultation and North Central London health commissioners had not fully investigated the financial standing of the parent company in the US.

But Mrs Justice Hill’s ruling said that even if there had been more consultation “it is highly likely the change in control would still have been authorised, such that the outcome would not have been substantially different”.

She added there had been “an established and published process” and they were able to “follow the decision-making”, adding: “I do not accept that NCL had given insufficient notice to the public of the proposed decision.

Hanley Medical Practice

“Any member of the public with a particular interest in GP services in north central London would know, from established and publicised processes, when meetings were going to take place and when the documentation would be published in advance.”

Details of the GP surgeries takeover had been mentioned in December 2020 in a single line of an 150-page committee pack of board meeting papers.

On the financial due diligence carried out, Ms Hill had said “there is nothing to suggest that it considered that key information was missing”.

She said there was a “compelling” argument that quashing the change in control decision would have such an “adverse impact” on the GP company and patients.

Doctors in Unite, the health arm of the union, said the final judgment in the case was “deeply disappointing” adding they would not stop the campaign “against the accelerating pace of NHS privatisation under the current government”.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “We must not allow our GP services to be hived off to profit-hungry private healthcare companies.

“Our members in the health service want to work for the NHS, not some private health business.”

A spokesperson for NHS North Central London Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “As a commissioner of NHS services, our main priority is to ensure the continued provision of high quality, safe and accessible services for local people.

“Our commissioning practices in relation to AT Medics have followed the same rules and guidance we apply to all our GP contracts, with decisions informed by legal and national guidance.

The spokesperson added: “We have participated fully in the judicial review process and are pleased that the judgment has upheld the lawfulness of our decision making process.

“The CCG will continue to monitor these services, as we do with all the services that we commission.”

Love our NHS? Stand up for it

A FIRST major NHS rally in more than two years since the pandemic is being held in Highbury Fields tomorrow (Saturday), writes Tom Foot.

All major health campaign groups and unions are coming together under a new national banner to fight for a one-off emergency cash injection of £20billion to the NHS.

A staffing crisis exacerbated by Covid has left hospitals and GP surgeries buckling under an unprecedented strain.

Organisers have hired an ambulance and will be touring the borough’s streets in the morning with a loud hailer calling on people to join the action from 2pm.

Professor Sue Richards from Keep Our NHS Public said: “We are signalling that campaigning is back to where it was before Covid. We need to start making our voices heard again because the NHS is fairly broken.

“You can see that by staffing figures. Hospitals are losing staff all the time, at a faster rate than they can fill the posts. People are having to work so many extra shifts and they are worn out from what they have been through.

“We need those posts filled. We need to go back to bursaries for training nurses. We need a proper staffing strategy.

“All major unions are involved and NHS campaigning bodies. The speakers will be talking partly about what the NHS means to them and the bid for emergency funding on a big scale.

“One of the reasons we had so many Covid deaths is the NHS was so unprepared, underfunded and understaffed. Cuts have been going on since 2010 when we were told it was important to balance the national debt. If you look at Germany, they have three times as many doctors per head. We pay two per cent less of GDP on the NHS than comparable countries.

“The government can find money to throw at PPE contracts for friends of ministers. There has been endless amounts of money spent in the last two years, but it has been spent inefficiently. Now we need to spend some more to get the NHS back to a level that is appropriate. We will not get the NHS back unless there is a substantial injection of funds.”

A huge appointments backlog built up during Covid when planned surgery was stopped for several months. Clearing the backlog, with the vaccination programme, has created a huge extra workload for NHS workers on top of their already busy schedule.

Campaigners will also be setting up street stalls in Navigator Square, Archway; the Nags Head, Holloway Road; Angel Sainsbury, Highbury Corner, from 11am-1pm.

The Camden and Islington Foundation Trust choir and Raised Voices choir will sing at the event that will hear from eight speakers including a care worker, a nurse, campaigners and the leader of the council.

On the ambulance, Prof Richards said: “It’s a bit of a film star ambulance that gets hired for making movies. It’s going to be touring around the borough encouraging. I will be on the loudspeaker. And then it will be parked on Highbury Fields, at the tube end of the park.”

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