Fury as US private insurance firm takes over the NHS surgeries of 500,000 patients

Daily news Health and Education Westminster

Furious campaigners have launched a petition to try and stop a US private health insurance company taking over 49 NHS GP surgeries in London.

The government is being accused of “privatisation by stealth” of the NHS and is facing calls for an investigation after it emerged one of the UK’s biggest GP practice operators is merging with Centene Corporation.

In a letter to Hancock, a coalition of doctors, academics and campaigners called on the health secretary to order the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – the body that regulates and inspects all GPs in the UK – to investigate the takeover of AT Medics by Operose Health, a UK subsidiary of Centene Corp, one of the largest operators in the US health insurance sector.

‘The privatisation of the NHS by stealth’

“Whilst we imagine you will not be sympathetic to those of us who consider that US health insurers have no place in the provision of NHS services, we ask you to consider carefully the reasons for our request,” states the letter.

“Most of the CCGs [clinical commissioning groups] have published nothing about this significant change, and held no meetings in public … This matter is an example of the privatisation of the NHS by stealth to which we have consistently drawn attention, and which you have, equally consistently, dismissed.”

The signatories – including representatives from Doctors for the NHS, Doctors in Unite, Health Campaigns Together, Keep Our NHS Public, NHS Support Federation, Socialist Health Association, and 999 Call for the NHS – claim the “lack of CCG openness and transparency, and even misrepresentation, cannot have occurred accidentally”.

The group also claims “inadequate and secret due diligence process” with a report conducted by South East London CCG, before authorisation of the merger remaining unpublished.

Furthermore it wants an investigation into “the role, advice and instructions of and on behalf of NHSE [NHS England] in relation to the CCGs, and the transparency of the delegation, and [to] establish whether improper influence or control was exerted.”

AT Medics is a privately owned operator of 37 GP practices and six NHS GPs, “spread across 19 London boroughs, caring for over 370,000 patients across 49 locations”.

Petition against cuts and closures of US system

A petition against the merger is being organised by the campaign group We Own It, who propose “public services are better run for people not profit”, and who argue : “Matt Hancock’s NHS reforms would lead to more American-style privatisation, not less.”

Hancock’s plans, the group states, will give private companies a position on boards and a say on how NHS money is spent and that introducing a US model into the NHS will likely lead to cuts and closures.

Patients will also be pushed to “go private” for their care “and have it paid for by the NHS.” The new system will also “open the door to more cronyism – yet more contracts would be given to government pals like Serco, as we’ve seen in the pandemic, but without any competition”, claim the group who add, private companies will be encouraged to litigate against the NHS.

“What we actually need is a national high quality, well funded, public NHS for everyone,” state We Own It, continuing: “Three out of four of us want our NHS reinstated as a fully public service after the pandemic.”

Labour MP Zarah Sultana urged people to “sign and share” the petition, tweeting: “US health corporations shouldn’t be running our NHS. We mustn’t let them put private profit before public health.”

‘Corby warned us’ says Unite

Assistant general secretary of the Unite trade union, Howard Beckett tweeted that, on 27th November 2019: “Jeremy Corbyn warned us that the Tories were handing our NHS over to USA. The press called him a liar. Today, 500,000 NHS Patients have been handed over to a US Private Health Corporation. Corbyn was right.”

The former Labour leader’s warning that the NHS will be “on the table” in trade talks with the US, came from official documents obtained in the final days of the 2019 general election campaign.

At the time, international trade secretary Liz Truss claimed: “Jeremy Corbyn is getting desperate and is out-and-out lying to the public about what these documents contain.”

She said the government “have consistently made [it] clear, the NHS wil not be on the table in any future trade deal”, and dismissed Corbyn’s claims as “conspiracy fuelled nonsense” that was “not befitting of the leader of a major political party.”

In his election victory speech on December 13, Boris Johnson pledged to prioritise the health service after the Brexit debate had finally been resolved.

“I frankly urge everyone on either side of what was, after three and a half years, after all an increasingly arid argument, to find closure and to let the healing begin,” said Johnson, continuing: “Because I believe – in fact, I know, because I have heard it loud and clear from every corner of the country – that the overwhelming priority of the British people now is that we should focus above all on the NHS.”

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