Campaigners claim the takeover happened secretively – HAFSON speaks with local reporter, Owen Sheppard. (This article is from My London on 12 March 2021)
Nine GP practices in West London have quietly come under the control of a US private health insurance company, prompting fears of NHS privatisation.
The practices – in Fulham, White City, Kensington, Chelsea, Willesden, Harrow, Wembley and Maida Vale – are owned by AT Medics, originally set up by NHS GPs in 2003.
AT Medics was taken over by Operose Health, the UK subsidiary of American health insurance giant Centene Corporation.
Centene, whose revenue in the US was $111 billion in 2020, now has control of the NHS-funded contracts to run the surgeries.
The change was approved by the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) boards in West London during meetings in late December.
After recently learning about the takeover, health campaigners and council chiefs have expressed fears it could lead to unhelpful competition between GPs for patients.
“Obviously the fact that we have a US company buying GP practices worries me because it could mean that residents lose out,” said Ben Coleman, Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s cabinet member for health.
Mr Coleman explained how a profit driven service could be incentivised to “poach” younger patients from other GP practices, and how this would cause financial problems.
“GPs are paid by the CCG for the number of patients they have registered with them,” he said.
“If you want to make more money you try and have as many patients on your books as possible who don’t need to use you. So you want to have younger, fitter people on your books.
“GPs need a mix of patients who don’t cost them anything to cross-subsidize the elderly or less healthy patients who cost them more.”
A prominent group of residents who campaigned to save Charing Cross Hospital were alarmed to hear confirmation of the takeover in February, despite asking the CCG about it in December.
Jim Grealy, of Hammersmith and Fulham Save Our NHS (HAFSON), said the campaign became suspicious when leaflets were put through residents’ doors advertising for people to join the Cassidy Centre in Fulham, which he said was “strange”.
“This leaflet seemed to be fishing for customers. The whole point of primary care networks [groups of GP practices] is that no one surgery can do everything, so they cooperate,” he said.
AT Medics, which also owns practices in east, south and north London, was approached for comment but there was no response.
A statement from the CCG said: “There was no legal or contractual basis for the CCG to reject the transfer of control [of AT Medics to Operose] and it will not alter the service that is required under the contract…
“As part of a due diligence process undertaken prior to considering the change in control we sought assurance that our patients and their care would not be affected. AT Medics Ltd advised us that they will continue to run the GP practices as they do now and patients will continue to see the same doctors and nurses. Although over time there may be some natural changes in staff as people choose to move to new jobs.”
The nine affected practices in north and west London include:
- Burnley Practice, Brent
- The Wembley Practice, Brent
- The Randolph Surgery, Maida Vale
- Canberra Old Oak Surgery, White City
- Cassidy Medical Centre, Fulham
- Mollison Way Practice, Harrow
- Barlby Surgery, North Kensington
- Earls Court Health and Wellbeing, Earls Court
- Kings Road Medical Centre, Chelsea
Mr Coleman (Labour) believes the takeover by Operose Health could be a “trojan horse” that will see other private companies buy up GPs practices.
He went on: “The way to get results, like with the vaccination programme, has been GPs coming together.
“And for example the council has been trying to work with GPs to identify vulnerable residents who can’t leave their homes and who need to be vaccinated.”