GP surgeries' patients put in the hands of US big business

Anti-privatisation campaigners’ anger as Islington practices are taken over by American health giant

Friday, 19th February 2021 — By Calum Fraser

Mitchison Road Surgery

Mitchison Road Surgery will be run by a subsidiary of the Centene Corporation

NHS chiefs last night (Thursday) faced calls to resign in protest as one of the biggest health insurance firms in the US seized control of a raft of Islington GP surgeries.

NHS-funded contracts at the Hanley Primary Care Centre in Finsbury Park, and the Mitchison Road Surgery, off Essex Road in Canonbury, are now in the hands of a subsidiary of the Centene Corporation.

The takeover – which councillors and anti-privatisation campaigners say has been largely cloaked in secrecy and approved without any option for a public debate – affects some 370,000 patients in the capital, with several other GP practices also scooped up. The new private partnership now considers itself to be “the leading provider of NHS primary care services in the UK”.

The “change in control”, which was effectively authorised in December, was scrutinised for the first time by elected representatives in a meeting yesterday. It was not open to members of the public to watch live, but a recording was made available after.

Hanley Primary Care Centre

Islington’s health chief, Cllr Nurullah Turan, joined councillors from Camden, Enfield, Barnet and Haringey as they made a last-ditch effort to put a halt on the deal at yesterday’s meeting of North Central London (NCL) Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Haringey’s Cllr Sarah James said at the meeting: “This is a matter of huge public concern that a US healthcare company is acquiring effective control of large numbers of GP practices across London. These concerns must be effectively addressed in public and not behind closed doors.”

Cllr Turan said: “It was not a good meeting, I’m afraid. We put points to them that information was clearly withheld and the decision should be null and void and open for reconsideration – but it was not accepted.

“To be honest, I think as a moral stand they should resign to stop it.”

There were about a dozen NHS officials at the meeting. Five surgeries in neighbouring Camden – including the King’s Cross Road surgery which also has patients from Islington – are similarly affected.

Peter Roderick, an NHS campaigner, said he had been “raging” since discovering the transfer had been finalised.

King’s Cross Road Surgery

When asked what difference the US firm could make for current patients, Mr Roderick added: “Sometime down the line they will see what it will lead to. This is all part of a slow process of dismantling the NHS as it was originally founded.

“It is moving further towards the whole idea that the market, rather than a public service, is the only way of bringing improvements.”

The surgeries’ transfer comes at a time when public confidence in the NHS is sky high following the successful rollout of the Covid vaccine, in sharp contrast to criticism of private companies such as Serco for their handling of “test and trace”.

The practices in Islington were already run by the company, AT Medics, which has been expanding its portfolio of GP surgeries in the capital for several years.

Last autumn, 75 per cent of its shares were transferred to a new company called AT Medics LLP, a limited liability partnership.

Cllr Nurullah Turan (left) and Peter Roderick

“When AT Medics became a subsidiary of the LLP, they were then able to pass on the shares to the subsidiaries of Centene,” said Mr Roderick, an expert on the field who co-authored the NHS Reinstatement Bill backed by Labour during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party.

Companies House documents show how AT Medics has merged with Operose Health Ltd, which is a subsidiary of MH Holdings International, and in turn is owned by parent company Centene Corporation.

Centene Corp – the 42nd richest corporation in the US – recently announced plans to slash 3,000 jobs in the US.

Key details that linked At Medics LLP with Centene Corp were not available when the original decision was made in December, Mr Roderick added.

It is on this basis that Cllr Turan and the other health chiefs tried to challenge the decision yesterday.

Omar Din, the chief executive of AT Medics, told the Tribune: “AT Medics and Operose Health have formed a partnership in order to create the leading provider of NHS primary care services in the UK.

“Our patients will continue to receive the same excellent standards of care that they enjoy today, while benefiting from further digital access and staff training.”

He added: “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. Our practice teams will be the same and all of the AT Medics Leadership Team are staying with the organisation as part of our new partnership.”

Nationally, a recently leaked White Paper from the government has suggested NHS outsourcing will be scaled back. But the private sector has already won £20billion in contracts throughout the competition era, which began under the New Labour governments of the early 2000s and was ramped up by reforms brought in by the Conservatives in 2012.

Minutes of a board meeting of the North Central London NHS Trust, the commissioner of Islington NHS contracts, revealed details of “the change in control” to “a subsidiary of Centene”.

Centene Corp did not respond to a request for comment about its future intentions for the NHS.

An NCL CCG spokesman said: “Patient care is our absolute priority. Islington residents will continue to receive the same great quality of care from their practice, provided by the same GPs and nurses.”

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