US health insurance giant, Centene, through its UK subsidiary, Operose Health, has been taking over GP surgeries and practices in London and across the country.

Centene has recently taken over AT Medics, a primary care provider responsible for 49 GP surgeries and over 370,000 patients in the Greater London area.

With a total of 70 GP surgeries and practices, Centene is one of the largest single providers of NHS primary care in England. According to GP Online: “Centene is set to hold nearly 1% of GP contracts in England – making it the country’s largest provider of NHS primary care with around half a million patients.”

The Daily Mail has called Centene a “profit greedy” company and “a corporate behemoth, with revenues tipped t o hit £45 billion in 2018 and a chief executive who pocketed £18.6 million last year.”

Local campaigners succeed

In April Centene’s contract renewal for a local surgery in Hammersmith was cut from 5 years to just 2 years – with stricter performance conditions following local campaigning.

In North Central London health leaders have just decided to get Centene out of two Islington GP surgeries as soon as July next year.

Councillor Alan Hall has joined the campaigners from We Own It to end this stealth take over of London’s GP practices.

The full text of the letter is here:

Dear Clinical Commissioning Groups,

We have recently been made aware of the takeover of 49 NHS GP practices by US healthcare company, Centene. These GP practices care for communities across London.

We are writing to you to express our disappointment that there was no consultation with the local communities that will be directly impacted by this change prior to approval being given to the takeover. We also want to put on record our strong opposition to the decision to allow the takeover and ask you to do everything in your power to end it.

The signatories of this letter disapprove of Centene’s involvement in London GP practices for many different reasons, but whatever one’s position on the involvement of the private sector in the NHS, it seems clear that Centene’s track record over just the last 5 years makes them unsuitable to run GP practices.

In March just his year, they were sued by the state of Ohio in the US for allegedly creating “an elaborate scheme to maximize company profits at the expense of the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) and the state of Ohio”. And the state of Mississippi has just announced that they are investigating Centene for similar schemes.

Last year, they were found guilty of systematically underpaying emergency room doctors who worked for them in the US state of Arkansas.

And in 2018, they were the target of a class-action lawsuit by people who bought health insurance from them because Centene allegedly failed to provide them with “adequate access to doctors in 15 states” despite taking premiums from those people every month. The year prior (2017), Centene had been fined $1.5 million by the state of Washington for, by Centene’s own admission, failing to provide a sufficient network of doctors for people who bought health insurance from them.

Their questionable activities have not been limited to the United States. In 2018, Centene was called “profit-greedy” by the Daily Mail after the company was also implicated in the closing down of a GP surgery in Harlow, Essex, here in England.

We have no reason whatsoever to expect that they will behave any differently in London. Such behaviour would undoubtedly have a profound impact on the quality of care Londoners, especially the elderly and vulnerable, receive as well as on the pay and conditions of the staff at our GP practices (including doctors).

We hope that you will heed our call to do everything in your power to end Centene’s involvement in London GP practices on which our local communities depend.

Cllr Alan Hall

London Borough of Lewisham

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