'Opposing NHS marketisation and sell-offs isn’t just ideological'

Nurses from central London hospitals protest about the chronic underfunding of the NHS and other iss

Despite protesting last year, NHS nurses are set to only receive a one per cent pay rise - Credit: PA Images

Boris Johnson seems to be enjoying a “vaccine bounce” with a widening opinion poll lead. Another U-turn is ever possible, but for now the Tory leadership seems confident of facing down utterly justified anger at their proposed one per cent “rise” – in real-terms a pay cut – for NHS staff.

Having thrown billions at a privatised Test and Trace programme, health secretary Matt Hancock unveiled an NHS White Paper last month, with coverage suggesting it could mark a halt to privatisation. But recent developments in the primary care sector reveal that was media spin.

The barely scrutinised transfer of Hackney Wick’s Trowbridge surgery from the original contractor AT Medics to Operose, the UK arm of the US-based health insurance giant Centene, is just a tiny part of Operose’s acquisition of nearly 50 sites across 19 London boroughs. Parent firm Centene ranks 42nd in the Fortune 500 table of US-based corporations. With 70 sites England-wide, Operose’s dramatic growth makes it the country's single-largest primary care provider.

Opposing NHS marketisation and sell-offs isn’t just ideological. Operose's strengthened position could influence the development of the new Integrated Care System, taking effect from April 1 across seven boroughs and replacing the City & Hackney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

The opening sentence of the current NHS constitution for England declares: “The NHS belongs to the people." In the absence of an effective campaign against privatisation, a more accurate statement might soon read: “The NHS belongs to corporate shareholders."

Thankfully, a campaign is emerging with public ownership advocates We Own It launching an online petition (weownit.org.uk/act-now/stop-sell-49-gp-practices) with nearly 50,000 signatures and local NHS campaigners in Islington organising a Zoom meeting and firing off letters to Matt Hancock.

Locally, Hackney Healthwatch is urging residents to challenge the Trowbridge transfer to Operose at the City & Hackney CCG’s meeting on Friday, March 26 at 2.30pm (cityandhackneyccg.nhs.uk/about-us/governing-body/board_Papers.htm).

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