GP takeover firm is target of NHS rally

Campaigners in protest against US health giant’s ‘corporate greed’

Friday, 23rd April 2021 — By Tom Foot

GP takeover 02-centene 4

Protesters in Fitzrovia. PHOTOS: SASCHA LAVIN

NHS campaigners rallied outside the offices of a private health care company yesterday (Thursday), sending a warning to health bosses: “See you in court!”

Unions and campaign groups from across London came together to organise the protest against Operose Health in New Cavendish Street, Fitzrovia.

Around 60 people lined the streets holding ­banners and placards with speakers including Unite’s Dr Jackie Applebee and former Labour ­Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who urged the crowd to “fight for the NHS until hell freezes over”.

It came on the day lawyers sent a “letter before claim” threatening health chiefs with a judicial review in the High Court.

In February several CCGs, clinical commissioning groups, across London approved the transfer of dozens of surgeries – including Randolph Surgery in Maida Vale – to Operose, which is wholly owned by the US health insurance giant Centene ­Corporation.

Former Labour ­Party leader Jeremy Corbyn spoke at the rally

Dr Applebee, chair of Doctors in Unite, said: “Centene now has half a million people as patients at their surgeries in the UK. Centene, and their like, operate for profit. The only way to make profit is to cut services and staff.”

She added: “They tell us, well, GPs are already private. They are not. I am a GP, I am not private. We get a fixed budget for local services from the government. We pay for staff and patients.

“We do not generate profit for shareholders. We do have shareholders, we do not pay them dividends. There’s a world of difference between a local GP and an American corporation that has no idea what it is like to live in Britain, or the people we look after.”

She said the “letter before action” had been sent to North Central London CCG and the Extra has seen emails relating to the legal bid.

TUC rep George Binette said: “I speak as an American citizen, to sound a warning bell. This protest is against one of the top 50 biggest corporations in the US, according to Forbes and Fortune magazines – the bibles of big business.

“Centene has extended across the whole of the US. The only reason it is interested in GP surgeries here must surely be profit. Ultimately it will open the door to further privatisation.”

Operose has strongly denied it will make any cuts and said that patients will not notice the difference in service following the takeover.

Mr Corbyn told the protest: “In 2019 I challenged Boris Johnson about talks his government was having with the United States over the National Health Service.

“I said we’ll end up with US companies running our GP surgeries and hospitals. That’s exactly what we have got, it’s exactly this happening now.”

He added: “If we don’t defend our NHS, and the principles of public employment, free at the point of need, then for the next generation it simply won’t be there any more. And we will go on fighting until hell freezes over.”

Mr Corbyn thanked the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition, which had organised a public meeting following the takeover last month.

The Extra’s sister paper, the Camden New Journal, revealed how health chiefs had agreed the change in control to Operose from AT Medics without any consultation or public debate.

It led to the matter being raised by the Labour shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth in the House of Commons.

The top boss of Operose last month quit – to take up a new role as the senior health adviser to Boris Johnson at Number 10.
Baroness Joan Bakewell has joined the campaign urging supporters not to give up.

Operose directors did not come out to speak to protesters. But a company statement 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.”

Related Articles