‘Protect the NHS and save GP surgeries'

Labour urge health secretary to step in to block US takeover

Friday, 5th March 2021 — By Tom Foot

Matt Hancock

Health secretary Matt Hancock

A ROW over a US health insurer’s takeover of GP surgeries has ended up in parliament, with health secretary Matt Hancock urged to intervene to “halt” the deal.

A subsidiary of the Centene Corporation had seized control of NHS contracts without any public debate or scrutiny.

The practices affected include the Randolph ­Surgery in Maida Vale and the Practice Beacon ­Medical Centre in Ladbroke Grove.

On Thursday Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth raised the issue in the House of Commons, telling Mr Hancock there was a “huge implication for patient care” and called for greater scrutiny of “stealth privatisation”.

The Extra’s sister paper, Camden New Journal, revealed the takeover a fortnight ago. A public meeting has been called and a demonstration is being planned for outside the offices of Centene’s UK arm, Operose Health, in Fitzrovia.

Mr Ashworth asked Mr Hancock during their to- and-fro at the despatch box: “In London, GP services of 375,000 patients were taken over by the US health insurance corporation Centene. There was no patient consultation. There was no public scrutiny. Will he step in? Halt the transfer, ensure it is fully securitised and prevent takeovers like this happening in the future?”

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth

Mr Hancock – one of the faces of the government’s response to the coronavirus – did not answer the question directly, but said: “We have seen again and again, especially throughout the pandemic, that what matters to people is the quality of care.

“That is what we should look out for.”

The change in control – from AT Medics, which already ran the practices, to the new partnership between the company and Operose Health – was rubber stamped by the West London Clinical Commissioning Group, one of 13 CCGs to approve the takeover.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour Party leader, revealed last week that he had “concerns” about the legal process behind the takeover.

Operose Health, formerly called Centene UK, boasts a board of directors with in-depth experience of negotiating the complex world of NHS procurement. Its chief executive Samantha Jones was, before joining the company, director of new care models at NHS England. While the change in control may be ticking all the right boxes, the concept of one of the biggest US corporations having a stake in the National Health Service has outraged anti-privatisation campaigners.

Residents are urged to sign a petition from the “We Own It” campaign that has been signed by more than 40,000 people.

AT Medics managing director Omar Din, who also now sits on the Operose Health board, said: “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. Patients will continue to consult with us in the same way that they do today.”

A spokesperson for Operose Health 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.”

A public meeting is due to take place online from 4pm on March 16.

Centene Corp has not responded to requests for comment.

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