Opposing the Operose Health takeover

Haringey leaders and campaigners lobby against NHS centre transfer

Campaigners protest outside the Laurels Healthy Living Centre
Photo credits: Stephen Furner

By Luchia Robinson

A number of Haringey campaigners and councillors are lobbying against the takeover of Laurels Medical Practice by the US health insurance company, Centene.

The Laurels in St Ann’s Road is one of 49 London NHS GP practices that was authorised in the takeover by 13 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in February.

Campaigners and medical professionals have criticised the deal saying the lack of consultation with local communities amount to “the privatisation of the NHS by stealth.”

The controversial US company was sued by the state of Ohio in March − the lawsuit alleging the health insurer enacted a scheme to maximise profits by breaching Medicaid contracts.

Last year, Centene was found guilty of systematically underpaying frontline emergency doctors in the state of Arkansas. Other claims have also been brought against the company in America and in the UK.

The motion against the NHS takeover was raised by Apsana Begum, Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, gathering cross party support from many local leaders.

Signatories of a petition opposing the takeover by Operose Health, the UK arm of Centene, include that of Cllr Sarah James, Haringey’s cabinet member for adults and health.

An open letter addressed to CCGs from London leaders including MPs, councillors, peers and assembly members referencing the US controversies stated: ‘We have no reason whatsoever to expect that they (Centene) will behave any differently in London. Such behaviour would undoubtedly have a profound impact on the quality of care Londoners, especially the elderly and vulnerable, receive as well as on the pay and conditions of the staff at our GP practices (including doctors).’

Local campaign group, Haringey Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) claim the private company is more interested in profits than patients, stating that they have a record of saving money by prioritising phone and digital GP consultations, while cutting services and replacing GPs with less expensive non-GP staff.

Haringey KONP said: “In other parts of the country private companies which have taken over GP practices have ended contracts when they have found they’re not making enough profit, walking away and leaving patients without a GP. Private companies don’t offer partnerships to the doctors they employ relying instead on locums.

“This means that patients aren’t likely to have continuity of care, and because private companies are free to opt out of work such as out-of-hours care and often offer digital services instead of direct face-to-face work, patients are given a very different service from one they might have expected.

There is a major shortage of GPs for NHS work and these changes are not going to help fill gaps in recruitment. Both patients and doctors are worse off.

“People’s health should not be treated as a commodity. People in Tottenham should be concerned that this form of contracting means a shift to a profit-driven US style system where only better-off people can afford healthcare when they need it.”

Haringey KONP staged a protest outside the Laurels last month on 22nd April, the national day of protest against Centene.

The local campaigners would like to see an end to Alternative Provider Medical Services (APMS) contracts, which they say have opened the door to large companies like Centene. They state local authorities and communities should have improved controls over the NHS, and that better scrutiny of private contracts and of proposed handovers to new contractors is essential to regulating the way APMS contracts are awarded.

Haringey KONP believe there should be an investigation of the conduct and suitability of the parent company (Centene) or associate companies, and that contractual guarantees should be in place, preventing patient data from being transferred outside the UK to any other part of a privately contracted company.

A spokesperson for Operose Health 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.

“We focus on delivering personal, professional patient care, of the highest quality, to the populations we serve. We are committed to widening public access to excellent patient care, especially in the most deprived communities, experiencing the most profound health inequalities.

“By combining best clinical practice, new ways of thinking and the most innovative global health technology, we work to improve the quality, value and accessibility of NHS health care so that all patients can share the opportunity to live healthier lives.”

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