Campaigners protest over GP takeovers in Willesden and Wembley
- Credit: Nathalie Raffray
Campaigners and patients have branded the takeover of two Brent surgeries by a private US health giant as a "betrayal" by the government.
Operose Health, a UK subsidiary of Centene Corporation, took over the Burnley Medical Practice in Robson Avenue, Willesden, and The Wembley Practice in Chaplin Road, in a "secret five minute meeting" in December.
Activists stood outside the Willesden Health Centre for Health & Care where the Burnley practice is based, yesterday (April 22) in solidarity with a similar protest by We Own It outside Centene's offices in central London.
The group, including patients who knew nothing about the takeover, accused the government of betrayal and said they feared losing the practice if Operose failed to return a healthy profit.
Camden Road Surgery closed four years after being taken by an Operose associate company in 2012, giving patients only four weeks to register elsewhere.
Patient Sophia MacGibbon, 75, said: "It's very concerning, It's really worrying.
"The previous people who ran it were doctors, and their number one priority was medical outcomes.
"Operose is a profit making company. At the end of the day their number one priority is profits. If you have a corn on your foot in the future will you have to pay to have it removed? You must pay to get your ears syringed now."
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An Operose Health spokesperson maintained the firm shared "NHS values, provides NHS services and cares for NHS patients."
But fellow patient Esther Sullivan, 77, said: "I'm worried that my doctor's surgery will disappear if they do not make a healthy profit."
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Protester Ashok Sethi said: "There's been a lot of deception.
"The Tories have made a commitment not to privatise, so if they have made a commitment not to privatise I do not understand why this has been allowed.
"It can be undone, it has to be undone, we don't want them."
Alyson Burberry said the decision "makes a mockery of government promises" adding: "The (former) chief executive of Operose is a health advisor to Number 10."
Samantha Jones was appointed as Boris Johnson's health advisor earlier this month.
Green Party activist Martin Francis, said: "It's really important to monitor what's going on in terms of creeping privatisation of the NHS.
"Centene's approach has been like a cuckoo's egg in the NHS nest pushing out all the other eggs and smashing them.
"The decision about Burnley was made at a private session of CCGs in December and presented a fait accompli. Neither the council or people had any idea."
Jonathan Fluxman, a retired GP, said he was protesting against "the sell off of surgeries to Centene which has a dreadful history of profiteering and poor standards of health care in America" and where it "destroys families with debt".
"I don't understand how the NHS and local CCGs can imagine that this will be of benefit to local patients," he added.
"We want to make it plain, the anger and the upset is so great that they shouldn't do anything like this again. The NHS is the most precious thing in our country.
"It's such a betrayal by the government who says it will not sell the NHS. There will be fewer doctors, more health assistants and more remote appointments."
An Operose Health spokesperson: “Operose Health shares NHS values, provides NHS services and cares for NHS patients.
"Like other NHS providers, our care is free at the point of delivery, regulated and inspected by the Care Quality Commission.
"We focus on delivering personal, professional patient care, of the highest quality, to the populations we serve.
"We are committed to widening public access to excellent patient care, especially in the most deprived communities, experiencing the most profound health inequalities.”
A DHSC Spokesperson said: “The NHS is not and never will be for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic.
"The NHS will always be free at the point of use and no one will ever be excluded from treatment because of the cost.
“GP practices that operate as private partnerships are bound by the same regulations and standards as other NHS providers.
"Their sole focus is the delivery of high quality medical care for anyone who needs it.”
The spokesperson said Samantha Jones worked in the NHS for nearly 30 years and was chief executive of Operose for two years adding: "She relinquished all external employment, responsibilities and financial involvement in Centene, Operose Health and any of its subsidiaries prior to joining the Civil Service."