GPs across the country protest at private takeover by US health giant Centene, 21 April 2021
Tomorrow will see doctors, patients and NHS campaigners from Keep Our NHS Public  and We Own It  stage several protests across the country  in opposition to their practices being taken over by US healthcare giant, Centene Corporation.
The main (socially distanced) protest will take place outside Centene’s subsidiary offices, Operose, which recently took over the privately owned AT Medics that runs 37 GP practices across London. Protestors will assemble at 77 New Cavendish Street, London W1W 6XB between 3 and 4pm on Thursday 22nd April. In attendance will be Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the Labour Party who has given his support to the campaign, as well as Apsana Begum, MP for Poplar and Limehouse. Similar protests will also be held in Leeds and Nottingham where GP practices are also being taken over by the US health provider.
Medics and campaigners alike believe that this takeover of 49 GP surgery sites under 37 contracts, that first came to light in February, represents the growing foothold that large private companies have in the NHS, and they worry that, due to the track record of Centene,  the move will ultimately have a negative impact on patient care and on employee’s terms and conditions leading to cost-cutting, de-skilling of staff and possibly a reduced quality of service.
Across the country, Centene now own 58 practices, covering 500,000 patients, making them almost certainly the largest providers of primary care in the English NHS. This change of control from the former owners, AT Medics, took place with little council involvement and no public consultation. Campaigners maintain that there has been pressure from NHS England to accept the deal without real scrutiny and that there are questions to be asked about whether NHS regulations were followed legally .
There are concerns over Centene’s other secondary care interests, too. Pathways of care already mean that, in some places, referrals from Centene practices could go to other Centene providers, raising the potential for significant conflicts of interest. Centene owns 40% of Circle Health, which in turn owns the large chain of private BMI hospitals. Campaigners fear that the larger the corporation’s presence, the more likely it is that this private US company would become part of the planning process for a significant part of the NHS.
One of the GPs involved in the action and member of Keep Our NHS Public, Dr Brian Fisher, said:
“This is a dangerous step towards more privatisation and Americanisation of our NHS. It is likely to lead to fewer GPs and to money being siphoned from patient care to US profits. It may, for the first time, open up the planning of local NHS services to the private sector –profits must never be allowed to come before patient care.”
Campaigns Officer Johnbosco Nwogbo of campaign group We Own It said:
“Centene’s takeover of our GP practices is absolutely shocking. When people turn up for an appointment with their GP, they expect to meet a local NHS doctor they can trust, not an employee of a massive American health insurance company. They expect their GP to be prioritising their health needs, not the bottom line of a private company. The reality is that whenever private companies are involved with our NHS, profit is prioritised over public health. You only have to look at Serco’s disastrous handling of the test and trace system to know that. So it’s imperative that this takeover – and all like it – is stopped in its tracks. The public don’t want American health giants running their GP practices, and they don’t want our NHS privatised bit by bit.”
Spokespeople are available for broadcast interview. For more information, please contact Samantha Wathen, press officer for Keep Our NHS Public [email protected] or call/WhatsApp: 07776047472
Notes to editors
- Keep Our NHS Public is a national independent organisation campaigning for a well-funded, publicly owned and provided NHS www.keepournhspublic.com
- We Own It is the campaign for the public ownership of public services www.weownit.org.uk
- Centene’s track record over the last 5 years:
In March 2021 Centene were sued by the state of Ohio in the US for allegedly creating “an elaborate scheme to maximize company profits at the expense of the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) and the state of Ohio”. And the state of Mississippi has just announced that they are investigating Centene for similar schemes.
In 2020 they were found guilty of systematically underpaying emergency room doctors who worked for them in the US state of Arkansas.
In 2018, they were the target of a class-action lawsuit by people who bought health insurance from them because Centene allegedly failed to provide them with “adequate access to doctors in 15 states” despite taking premiums from those people every month.
In 2017 Centene were fined $1.5 million by the state of Washington for, by Centene’s own admission, failing to provide a sufficient network of doctors for people who bought health insurance from them.
In 2018, Centene was called “profit-greedy” by the Daily Mail after the company was also implicated in the closing down of a GP surgery in Harlow, Essex, here in England.
- The decision to allow Operose to take over AT Medics was enacted in December, either in private meetings from which the public was excluded, or by chair’s action. During the Covid pandemic normal functions of committees were suspended because committee members were busy with pandemic related work. Taking chair’s action is normally reserved for urgent decisions that cannot wait. Campaigners were informed that Operose requested the decision be taken in December “for commercial reasons.” There was nothing urgent in relation to patient care. No credible justification has been given for the rushed and secretive way in which the decision was made. The publicly available documents presented to the PCCS prior to their approval did not mention Centene. (Was this because NHS England and the CCGs were afraid there would be objections?) Where PCCC meetings did take place in December, discussion of the presence of Centene in the takeover was confined to the closed Part 2 of the meeting. It is not clear what due diligence was conducted on behalf of all the CCGs by South East London CCG. The CCG had the right to insist this be done because under Para 54.1 of the Standard APMS Contract, October 2019, Commissioners have absolute discretion about any conditions to impose prior to giving their authorisation to change of control.