Takeover of Ilford surgery by US health insurance company condemned as “privatisation by stealth”

An American health insurance giant took over an Ilford GP surgery as part of a huge merger condemned by NHS campaigners for a “lack of openness”.

Operose Health, a subsidiary of US company Centene, took over UK company AT Medics on February 10, gaining ownership of its London GPs, including Loxford Practice in Ilford Lane.

Doctors and campaigners wrote to Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week, calling for an investigation into the “lack of openness and transparency” around the takeover.

They argued the merger was “an example of the privatisation of the NHS by stealth” and that the Care Quality Commission should “establish whether any improper influence or control was exerted”.

A spokesperson for the NHS insisted “patients will not see any difference in the way their GP practice is run” following the takeover.

Those opposed were concerned that many clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) responsible for areas where affected GPs are located had “published nothing about this significant change”.

The letter reads: “This lack of openness and transparency, and even misrepresentation, cannot have occurred accidentally. Why this happened must be investigated.”

The merger will affect 11 GP surgeries in north east London.

The combined North East London CCG did not hold a public meeting or publish a report on the takeover.

An NHS spokesperson said that the GPs, including Loxford Practice, “will continue to deliver NHS primary care services as they did before”.

They said: “Change in ownership is allowed under the GP contract and there was no legal or contractual basis for the CCG to reject the transfer of ownership of AT Medics Ltd.

“Patient care is our priority, and patients will not see any difference in the way their GP practice is run.

“They will be seeing the same GPs, practice nurses and other health professionals as they do now.

“AT Medics have run the Loxford Practice for some time now and the practice is rated good by the CQC with an improving performance. Our expectation is that this will continue.”

Opponents have raised concerns that all six members of AT Medics board resigned on the day of the takeover and were replaced by three new members, all directors of Centene’s UK subsidiary Operose Health.

A spokesperson for Operose Health said the company “followed all the required regulatory procedures”, including getting consent from CCGs.

They added: “As a provider of NHS services, care remains free at the point of delivery.

“In addition, and as with all other GP services throughout the country, we will continue to be regulated and inspected by the Care Quality Commission.”

Operose Health said only those involved in delivering care had access to patients’ data, and that data would not be shared with with third parties unless obliged by UK law.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter