Demo against takeover taking place outside the Canberra Old Oak Surgery
Save Our NHS campaigners at Parsons Green Walk in Centre (third from right) Jim Grealy
Health campaigners protested against the takeover of dozens of London GP practices by a private health company including the Canberra Old Oak Surgery in White City.
Hammersmith and Fulham Save Our NHS (HAFSON) staged the protests on Thursday, 22 April, at the two local surgeries that have changed hands with a similar protest at the Cassidy Centre in Fulham.
They are part of a network of GP surgeries across London that are managed by AT Medics, which was set up by NHS GPs in 2003.
But AT Medics was acquired in late 2020 by Operose Health, the UK subsidiary of publicly listed health insurance giant Centene Corporation, whose revenue in the US last year was $111 billion.
Labour politicians and health campaigners throughout London have raised fears that giving NHS contracts to a multinational company will change the way front-line services are delivered.
After the protests outside the centres, a larger demonstration by the Unite trade union too place on Thursday at Operose’s headquarters in New Cavendish Street, Marylebone. Unite has called the situation “privatisation of the NHS by stealth”.
Organiser and doctor Jackie Applebee said, “There is a world of difference between a multinational corporation that operates to make a profit, often by cutting staff and services, so that it can pay dividends to shareholders, and local GPs who are very much part of the NHS ‘family’ and provide services from a budget fixed by the Treasury.”
An Operose spokesperson said, “Operose Health shares NHS values, provides NHS services and cares for NHS patients. Like other NHS providers, our care is free at the point of delivery, regulated and inspected by the Care Quality Commission.”
The takeover of nine AT Medics practices in north west London boroughs was secretively approved by the North West London NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which said it had “no legal basis” for preventing it.
The surgery is based in the Parkview Centre in Cranston Court. Picture: Google Streetview
There have also been concerns that patient data could be shared with Centene.
The CCG has since said that “due diligence” checks were carried out and that there is no legal possibility that Operose could share patient data – even anonymised data – with Centene.
These issues were discussed publicly for the first time by local NHS chiefs during a CCG governors meeting on 15 April.
Jo Ohlson, the CCG’s accountable officer, said the takeover did not require a public consultation because “it was not a change in service, there was no requirement to consult”.
Responding to public questions, she said, “We made it absolutely clear that they could not share data outside of the UK. They couldn’t share patient-identifiable data anyway, but even non-patient-identifiable data about population health could not go outside the UK holding company…
“There were certain things we required when we sought assurances – there would be no change in personnel in any of the practices delivering the services.”
HAFSON member Jim Grealy, from Fulham, asked, “As you know this is a national concern… so we would like to know on an ongoing basis that Centene, Operose… which are profit making organisations that make profit on low cost, that reports will come back to us about any deviations from the normal service.”
Ms Ohlson replied, “Yes we will do that but I would also like us to report more broadly on primary care as well.”
Owen Sheppard - Local Democracy Reporter
April 26, 2021