Exclusive: GP takeover challenge reaches court
Judge to decide on case brought by patient after control of surgeries was switched to US giant
20 May, 2021 — By Tom Foot
A protest outside Operose’s offices in April
HIGH court judges will consider the legality of the US takeover of dozens of NHS GP surgery contracts across the country – including four in Camden – after a patient lodged an application for a judicial review this week, the New Journal can reveal.
A crowdfunding page has been set up to raise £25,000 to meet the cost of the legal challenge against North Central London Clinical Commissioning Group (NCL).
Our front page in January revealed how the Somers Town Medical Practice, King’s Cross Surgery, Brunswick Medical Practice and the Community Health Improvement Partnership (CHIP) for homeless patients had come under the control of Operose Health Limited without any public debate.
Operose is fully owned and bankrolled by the Centene Corporation – one of the biggest health companies in the United States. It has also taken over the out-of-hours service, used by all Camden patients when surgeries are closed.
In theory, the deal could be quashed and contracts put out to tender if the judicial review is successful.
The legal case rests on whether NCL fully assessed the finances of the company, was properly transparent with the public about the “change in control” from the previous operator, AT Medics, and the potential for patients’ data to be transferred to the US.
Professor Sue Richards, who is on the national executive of the Keep Our NHS Public campaign group, said: “The claim is very strong on what NCL failed to do. “The CCG [Clinical Commissioning Group] is a statutory body. It is there to protect the interest of patients. “It is in their interests that north London patients get proper care.”
The claimant in the case, Anjna Khurana, who is backed by several campaign groups and represented by law firm Leigh Day, is a patient at one of the affected surgeries in neighbouring Islington, where she is also councillor.
She said: “When I read about it in your newspaper I thought, hang on, that’s my surgery. I was quite taken aback by the lack of transparency. This is NHS money and it should mean that these surgeries are run for the patients.”
She added: “I’m not trying to be a martyr, this is bigger than me. When there is something that can be done, one should do it. So I’m pleased to be involved.” A protest was held outside the Operose offices in Fitzrovia in April.
Since the New Journal broke the story in January it has been raised in the House of Commons by the shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth.
The chief executive of Operose Health has since quit to take up a new position as the most senior health adviser to prime minister Boris Johnson.
A high court judge will decide whether to proceed with the application but campaigners firmly expect it to be heard.
Leigh Day solicitor Anna Dews said: “My client was not aware of the authorisation decision until after it had taken place and she is worried that the CCG decided not to consult or otherwise involve patients and misdirected itself as to the correct legal test for authorising the decision.”
Operose Health has repeatedly said it followed legal procurement rules and that patients would not notice any change in the day-to-day service from under AT Medics.
An NCL CCG statement said: “We are committed to offering residents high quality, safe and accessible care. The same high quality services will continue to be delivered by the same staff at AT Medics practices to residents across North Central London.”