“Privatisation by stealth”: Dozens of MPs slam private takeover of 49 GP practices

Left-wing MPs are sounding the alarm over a US insurance giant's new 'partnership' with surgeries in London.

A group of 67 MPs have publicly opposed the takeover of dozens of GP practices by the US health insurance giant Centene.

The deal will make Operose the largest provider of NHS GP services in England, covering nearly half a million patients after the firm ‘partnered’ with primary care firm ATMedics.

Now MPs including SNP parliamentary leader Ian Blackford, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Plaid Cymru health spokesperson Ben Lake have hit out at the deal.

The MPs have all signed an Early Day Motion (EDM) in parliament expressing “alarm” at Centene taking over the practices through its UK subsidiary Operose Health, suggesting it could lead to the loss of GP surgeries.

Doctors groups and health campaigners have also expressed alarm at the deal, with fears of mergers and cuts to GP provision.

The opposition motion in Parliament comes after Centene took over 49 GP practices responsible for over 300,000 patients in London earlier this year.

GP surgeries are usually small and medium sized businesses operating under the watch of local health services. But campaigners fear the ‘US takeover’ will make surgeries less accountable, serving the interests of companies rather than local patients.

Labour MP Apsana Begum – who tabled the EDM in parliament – said the takeover represented ‘privatisation by stealth’:  “We must fight for the NHS to return to complete public ownership, so that we have a service which is funded by the public for the public. The NHS should not be run for profit, because profit does not care for people’s wellbeing.

“The selling off of GP practices is privatisation by stealth, and must be opposed. I’m grateful to all those who have supported the motion so far, and urge others to join us in the fight to reclaim the NHS.”

Campaigners point to the closure of a Centene-run GP surgery in Harlow in 2018 to suggest that similar closures could take place across London following the recent ‘partnership’ announcement.

They also allege that private company involvement in GP practices inevitably leads to the prioritisation of profit over patient care. 

Johnbosco Nwogbo, campaigns officer at We Own It – a group campaigning against Centene’s takeover – described the move as ‘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..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.”

We Own It is currently running a petition to stop Centene’s takeover of GP practices, which has gathered over 50,000 signatures.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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