NHS North Central London Integrated Care Board has decided not to renew Operose’s contract to run the Hanley Primary Care Centre in Islington. The contract, which Operose acquired when it bought AT Medics in 2021, will now be put out to tender.
Cllr Nurullah Turan, Health and Social Care Executive on Islington Council, said on Twitter:
“I am delighted to report that the NHS North Central London Integrated Care Board took the decision today not to renew the contract of US healthcare giant Centene (Operose Health) to run Hanley Primary Care Centre in Islington – a huge win for local people.”
The decision by the board was made based on a report that found that the Hanley surgery had an underprovision of 2.8 “working time equivalent” GPs and was carrying out 270 too few appointments every week. The report said: “This is deemed significant to access for the registered patient list. There was an overprovision of nursing appointments.”
One of the GPs at the surgery criticised the committee for an “unfair” assessment of its service, blaming a national “workforce crisis” and “unhealthy lifestyle choices” of patients.
Earlier in September, the Islington Tribune reported that Omar Din, the managing director of both AT Medics and Operose Health, was involved in “a testy exchange with councillors” at a meeting where Din had to deny that the acquisition of AT Medics by Operose, “left practices understaffed and inaccessible.”
Accusations that Operose were putting profits before care quality were raised earlier in the year by an undercover investigation by BBC’s Panorama, which found that the company has let less-qualified Patient Associates (PA) see patients without adequate supervision.
The Panorama investigation, which was shown on the BBC the evening of 13 June 2022, sent an undercover journalist to work as a receptionist at one of the company’s 51 London GP surgeries. It was at this surgery that a GP said they were short of eight doctors and the practice manager said they hired the less qualified PAs because they were “cheaper” than GPs.
Operose’s level of GPs was found by the investigation to be much lower than average, with just over 0.6 full time equivalent GPs per 2,000 registered patients, compared to the average of 1.2 full-time GPs, whereas Operose employs six times as many PAs as the NHS average.
There are also reports from admin staff that some correspondence has not been processed and has waited to be seen by a GP or pharmacist for up to six months.
Operose, owned by the giant US healthcare insurer Centene, built its GP surgery business through the acquisition of first The Practice plc in 2016, with 20 GP surgeries, one urgent treatment centre, and some other community ophthalmology services around England, and then London-based AT Medics in early 2021, which gave the company an additional 49 surgeries in London. The company now has over 600,000 NHS patients on its lists at 69 surgeries.
The company’s takeover of AT medics in 2021 was challenged by campaigners on the basis of lack of consultation with the public. However, the challenge was dismissed by a high court judge in February 2022.
The US corporation Centene has over 30,000 employees in the USA and operates health insurance plans for around 2.9 million people in 24 US states.