Fears that private health companies could be picking off parts of the NHS were sounded this week after Private Eye revealed that one US giant had taken over 37 London GP practices, adding them to the 22 primary care services it already runs in the UK.
Practices across the capital, originally set up by the NHS in 2003, have fallen into the hands of Operose Health after the company took over AT Medics.
Operose Health is the UK subsidiary of American health insurance giant Centene Corporation, whose revenue in the US was $111 billion in 2020.
It now has control of the NHS-funded contracts to run the surgeries.
Ben Coleman, Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s cabinet member for health, warned that a profit-driven service could lead to local residents “losing out” because the service could be incentivised to “poach” younger patients from other GP practices.
He told MyLondon: “GPs are paid by the CCG for the number of patients they have registered with them.
“If you want to make more money you try and have as many patients on your books as possible who don’t need to use you. So you want to have younger, fitter people on your books.
“GPs need a mix of patients who don’t cost them anything to cross-subsidize the elderly or less healthy patients who cost them more.”
A prominent group of residents who campaigned to save Charing Cross Hospital were also alarmed to hear confirmation of the takeover in February, despite asking the CCG about it in December.
Jim Grealy, of Hammersmith and Fulham Save Our NHS (HAFSON), said the campaign became suspicious when leaflets were put through residents’ doors advertising for people to join the Cassidy Centre in Fulham, which he said was “strange”.
“This leaflet seemed to be fishing for customers. The whole point of primary care networks [groups of GP practices] is that no one surgery can do everything, so they cooperate,” he said.