Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) campaigners are to stage protests outside GP surgeries across north-east London this week amid building anger over their privatisation.

It was revealed in February that a number of London GP practices, including Trowbridge surgery in Hackney, had been put in the hands of US health insurance giant Centene through its subsidiary, Operose.

The move blindsided council leaders, with Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville and the administrations of 15 other boroughs challenging health secretary Matt Hancock over “its implications for a possible wider privatisation of the NHS”.

KONP’s socially distanced protest on April 22 will demand the transfers are overturned, as well as the abolition of the Alternative Provider (APMS) contract that enabled the move.

A KONP spokesperson said they did not want health services privatised and used to make profits: “Trowbridge GP surgery, like all the other health services now privatised and run by companies for profit, still displays the NHS logo.

“We don’t want the NHS logo to be used to cover up transfers to US corporates. We don’t want our NHS to be parcelled up and sold off under the radar."

Hackney Gazette: An NHS hospital ward.An NHS hospital ward. (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)

KONP says the government is introducing a “major reorganisation under cover of Covid which will hugely increase opportunities for privatisation” through the roll-out of Integrated Care Systems (ICS), which will replace clinical commissioning groups (CCG) with larger structures that cover a wider area.

In a March letter to secretary of state for health Matt Hancock, also signed by Camden council leader Cllr Georgia Gould and Islington counterpart Cllr Richard Watts, Mayor Glanville noted that the transfer of control from AT Medics, which runs the surgeries in question, to Operose/Centene had happened with “alarming speed, with little public scrutiny or patient consultation, and little or no involvement of council partners or local patient groups”.

Addressing North London councillors last month, Frances O’Callaghan, accountable officer for North Central London CCG, acknowledged that health leaders ought to have “picked up the phone to an elected member” to make councils aware of the change, but stressed there was “no attempt” to keep the information hidden.

The CCG has also argued that there are “checks and balances” that mean the APMS contract system operates safely, characterising the change of control as “one private company has been taken over by another private company”.

Health bureaucrats, in response to the widespread backlash, have made clear that there is no legal or contractual basis on which to refuse consent to the change of control.

In the joint letter to Mr Hancock, Mr Glanville said responsibility falls with central government and its "longstanding failure" to protect the NHS from private companies. He continued: “Despite assurances that the service offered by GPs at these practices will not change, already there are troubling signs."

"Recent news that the board of AT Medics has been entirely replaced by employees of Centene suggests that changes are in fact well underway.

“As a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange, Centene Corporation is ultimately answerable to its shareholders, who will expect it to maximise profits."

Mayor Glanville added that for GPs, this could lead to further competition for patients between surgeries.

The letter goes on: “This is particular concerning given the clear evidence on the poor outcomes and high costs of the US health care system compared to the Britain’s publicly owned NHS.”

In a statement provided to the LDRS last month, a spokesperson for AT Medics and Operose said it has followed all required regulatory procedures, including obtaining consent from CCGs: “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 CQC. Our focus has been and will remain ensuring we provide high quality care for the populations we serve.”

Centene was contacted for comment.

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