Barry Gardiner: 'Creeping control over our NHS by American companies'

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49 GP sites in London are set to be taken over by the American owned company Operose Health Ltd. - Credit: PA Images

As excuses go, “I was just following orders” became bankrupt in 1945.

So it has been extraordinary to hear health chiefs claim (wrongly) that they have no option but to do what NHS London tells them, and rubber stamp the takeover of GP surgeries in London by the American owned company Operose Health Ltd.

Most patients will never have heard of Operose. They will probably not even have heard of the company AT Medics, which currently provides their GP services in Brent through the Wembley Practice in Chaplin Road and the Burnley Practice in Willesden; and in another 47 sites in 18 other London boroughs.

Yet without public consultation last November, a decision in principle was taken to allow the transfer of the medical services contract by the Brent Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) at Part 2 of its meeting. The Part 2 is important: it is the secret part of the meeting. And this Wednesday, NHS London have told them they must ratify it in the open session of the meeting to make it legally binding.

They should refuse.

Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North

Barry Gardiner says NHS London should reject this sell-off of London’s primary healthcare - Credit: Louise Haywood-Schiefer/

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They should reject this sell-off of London’s primary healthcare and fulfil their obligation to conduct appropriate scrutiny over the transfer and award of contracts that will affect hundreds of thousands of Londoners.

The committee should ask whether a company that has acquired a reputation for ruthlessly exiting contracts, including one in Camden where a practice was reputedly run down and closed with patients given only four weeks’ notice to find another GP, is fit to be a trusted provider for vulnerable patients here in Brent.

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The other matter the committee should be concerned about is the financial backing of the company whose accounts appear to reveal losses of almost £6.5million. Operose’s American parent company, Centene, have invested more than £9milllion into Operose despite it showing year-on-year losses since 2017.

This of course could be an extraordinary generosity and concern for the welfare of British citizens; but some might suspect that it is a way of paying no tax in the UK whilst offsetting these losses against the global income of the US company for American tax purposes. If this were indeed the company’s objective then it would constitute a very unreliable partner for Brent patients indeed.

I have made my views clear to Dr M Patel as chair of the CCG and asked him to facilitate a conversation with the lay chair of the committee ahead of the meeting on Wednesday.

I pay tribute to all those on Brent Patient Voice who have raised this matter with me and believe that it is essential that those who can see what is being done to our health service do not just “follow orders” issued by NHS London, but honestly weigh up the likely repercussions of such creeping control over our healthcare by American companies with no ultimate loyalty to the health of British patients.

The old structure of CCGs is being done away with – the government would say “consolidated” -- and so this will likely be one of the last critically important decisions the Brent CCG will take before it is “consolidated” into the new North West London grouping. That means nobody will be left to carry the can for the decision they take.

They must not let this abomination be their legacy.

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