A large US healthcare company with offices in New Cavendish Street is at the centre of a storm of protest after it took over the running of one of England’s biggest NHS general practice providers in what one critic described as a “Trojan horse manoeuvre”.
Operose Health, part of Centene Corporation, recently acquired AT Medics and its collection of GP practices across London, adding to a swathe of other surgeries in England that it had already gobbled up after similar acquisitions.
News first emerged of the controversy in early February when health journal The Lowdown reported on the takeover. The New Journal group of news weeklies then reported that a number surgeries in Camden, Islington and Westminster were part of the acquisition by the American company.
“NHS-funded contracts at the King’s Cross Surgery, Brunswick Medical Centre, Somers Town Medical Centre and the Camden Health Improvement Practice for homeless patients, are now in the hands of a subsidiary of the Centene Corporation,” reported Tom Foot in the CNJ.
Hanley Primary Care Centre in Finsbury Park, and the Mitchison Road Surgery, off Essex Road in Canonbury were also acquired by Centene, reported Calum Fraser in the Islington Trubune.
Operose Health told the New Journal: “We have followed all the required regulatory procedures, including obtaining consent from our Clinical Commissioning Groups.”
Frances O’Callaghan, North Central London CCG’s accountable officer, told the Guardian that it could not legally reject the transfer of ownership.
“We followed a robust process to confirm that the transfer would not affect our patients, which included being assured regarding patient data protection. Twelve other London CCGs who commission AT Medics also considered and individually approved the transfer,” she said.
However, Professor Sue Richards told a joint scrutiny committee of five London councils, on Friday 12 March, that Centene had used AT Medics “as a Trojan horse, buying them up and with that their contracts with the NHS”.
In her deputation statement to councillors from Barnet, Enfield, Camden, Haringey, and Islington she criticised the North Central London Clinical Commissioning Group for allowing the acquisition by the American company to take place, saying “they had the opportunity legally to put a stop to this Trojan horse manoeuvre but did not do so”.
She told the committee that NCL CCG was likely “put under a lot of pressure by NHS England to waive through this change of control, making the most of the current emergency to make changes they wanted to make anyway”.
“We believe this is not unconnected to the desire to have a free trade deal with the USA and to demonstrate that US health interests would be welcome,” she said.
Richards is referring to public concern about the government’s main Brexit objectives to pursue an independent trade policy and free trade agreement with, among others, the United States.
“There are particular concerns that trading terms agreed with other countries would limit the ability of the government and devolved administrations to organise and publicly fund their health services or change the way the public access NHS services,” stated a Commons briefing paper published last year.