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High Court to decide on ‘GP surgery privatisation’ by US healthcare giant

NHS campaigners raised £80,000 to launch a legal challenge against a decision to let a US firm take over London GP surgeries.

Campaigners fear the English NHS will be replaced by a profit-driven American-style system. Image: Mark Thomas Photos

The takeover of London GP surgeries by a US healthcare giant has reached the high court as campaigners look to “stop privatisation in its tracks”.

Protesters gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Monday and Tuesday to oppose the move, fearing that if allowed to go ahead, it would open the gates for GP privatisation across the NHS. 

Operose Health, a UK subsidiary of US healthcare giant Centene Corporation, took over NHS-contracted surgeries run by AT Medics last year. AT Medics, a privately owned firm, has 47 GP surgeries across 19 London boroughs. 

The High Court must decide whether North Central London CCG, a clinical commissioning group that approved the takeover, broke the law by allowing Operose Health to take over AT Medics without consulting with patients and stakeholders, or giving due consideration to the risk to patients.

“A favourable judgement at this judicial review could stop GP surgery privatisation in its tracks,” said ​​Jackie Applebee, chair of Doctors in Unite. 

Speaking outside the court, she added: “A year ago we found out, just through the grapevine, there was no consultation, no announcement, that a group of GPs called AT Medics have been taken by Operose, which is a subsidiary of the giant US health maintenance organisation Centene. We were absolutely horrified.

“We’re being told repeatedly that the NHS isn’t being privatised, and yet here we are with a massive US health maintenance organisation that sells health insurance with their feet under the table of general practice in Britain.

“Taking on those practices means that they now have 500,000 patients, and they now have access to their data.”

The judicial review got the go ahead in October after two crowdfunding campaigns raised almost £80,000 to fund it. The review has been brought by NHS patient and Islington councillor Anjna Khurana, a patient at one of the GP surgeries taken over by the US healthcare company. Campaign groups Keep Our NHS Public, 999 Call for the NHS and We Own It joined with union Unite to support bringing the case to the courts. 

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The Health and Care Bill, dubbed the “the corporate takeover bill,” by Labour MP for Norwich South Clive Lewis, is currently making its way through parliament. Unite and other healthcare campaign groups have voiced strong opposition to the bill that they say will pave the way for the NHS to be replaced by a profit-driven, American-style system.

“We will not allow our GP services to be hived off to profit-hungry American private healthcare companies,” said Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary. 

“Our members, who work in the health service, want to work for the NHS and not some US private health company and Unite members who use the NHS on a daily basis want their taxes to fund it, not go to profits in the US boardroom and the pockets of their shareholders.”

A judgement from the High Court is expected to be announced on Wednesday.  

A spokesperson for the North Central London CCG  said: “We are committed to offering residents high-quality, safe and accessible care. Our commissioning practices in relation to AT Medics have followed the same rules and guidance we apply to all our GP contracts, with decisions informed by legal and national guidance.

“The CCG is defending its decision and the process and will not comment further while a judicial review is under way.”

Operose Health said that it would not be appropriate for the company to comment as “the judicial review is between an individual and the North Central London Clinical Commissioning Group over issues of process.”

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