Judicial review into US-backed takeover of GP practices set for early 2022

A judicial review into the takeover of dozens of NHS GP practices by a US-backed company will begin early in 2022 after campaigners raised tens of thousands of pounds to support legal action.

Protesters hit out at NHS privatisation (Photo: Barcroft Media/Getty Images)

Campaigners have been calling for a judicial review since early this year after Operose Health - a subsidiary of US healthcare giant the Centene Corporation, which provides health insurance to around 25m Americans - significantly expanded its portfolio of NHS GP practices.

A 'partnership' deal with major primary care provider AT Medics took the total number of practices controlled by the group to 58, making Operose almost certainly the largest provider of NHS GP services in England.

The company's practices account for nearly 1% of the total of around 6,500 in England and cover a total patient population in excess of 500,000.

Judicial review

The expansion of Centene's foothold in NHS primary care led the Doctors in Unite union to warn that the NHS was being 'parcelled up and sold off under the radar'.

Unite announced on 19 November that a judicial review would go ahead in early 2022 after 'more than £70,000 has been raised by the public' to support the case.

An initial amount of just over £43,000 was raised earlier this year. The judicial review was confirmed last month - and is now set to go ahead after a fundraising campaign brought in nearly £30,000 more to cover 'capped costs', a payment that could have to be made if the case is lost.

Campaigners have called for a review to consider whether adequate consultation with patients around the takeover was carried out. Unite said the review will go ahead in January or February next year and that it will consider whether a north London CCG acted unlawfully in allowing the takeover.

GP contracts

The union said that other factors to be considered will include 'whether due diligence into the workings of Operose Health took place, and the lack of consultation with patients and other stakeholders'.

Doctors in Unite chair Dr Jackie Applebee said: 'Ministers and senior NHS executives have repeatedly mouthed the mantra that the NHS is not being privatised, but that is patently not true as the awarding of lucrative contracts to non-UK private healthcare firms continues apace.

'How commissioning decisions are made will be under scrutiny at the judicial review and we hope to get a favourable judgment that stops GP surgery privatisation in its tracks.

'A key question will be why a huge swathe of English general practice, including the data of nearly half a million patients, was handed over to US health insurance giant Centene - with a breathtaking lack of transparency and openness.'

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: 'This is a landmark case in the fight against the accelerating pace of privatisation of the NHS in England.

'The magnificent effort by the public to raise more than £70,000 for this legal case is a testament to how much people value and love the NHS – they don’t want to see its services and ethos eroded.'

A spokesperson for NHS North Central London CCG said: 'We are committed to offering residents high quality, safe and accessible care. Our commissioning practices in relation to AT Medics have followed the same rules and guidance as we apply to all our GP contracts and any decisions taken were informed by legal and national guidance.

'The High Court has granted permission for a judicial review of the CCG’s decision to approve the change of control and we are participating fully and openly in this process. It would not be appropriate for us to comment further on the ongoing legal proceedings at this time.'

Operose declined to comment.

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