The Laurels is a GP practice on St. Ann’s Road in North London. It is one of 37 practices across 49 sites that has recently been acquired by the huge American health insurance company Centene Corporation, via its subsidiary Operose.
According to anti-privatisation campaigners who held a protest there on Friday afternoon, the takeover has been shrouded in secrecy, without public debate, and even local councillors have been unaware of the ownership changes until the last moment.
Some of the GP practices were already in the hands of a private company, AT Medics, but in an online meeting in December the North Central London Commissioning Group approved the change of control over to Operose in just a few minutes without questions and without any mention of Centene.
There was also an understanding there would be no change to the board of directors, but just two months later, all six AT Medics directors resigned, and among the three new directors was Samantha Jones, who previously worked as Director of New Care Models at NHS England, and is now CEO and President of Centene UK.
Another director at Centene UK is now working as a Deputy Director of the Test and Trace programme at the Department of Health and Social Security, prompting local councillor Nurullah Turan to write to Matt Hancock about the potential conflict of interest.
The concern for many campaigners, including Dr Bob Gill, the south London GP who made The Great NHS Heist film, is that the much-trumpeted Integrated Care System, which supposedly pulls the NHS away from competition, is actually a ploy to cut services, increase profits for companies like Centene, and put patients in danger as a result.
In America, Centene is a Fortune 500 company that made 111 billion dollar revenue last year. The acquisition of surgeries in London is expected to make it the largest private supplier of GP services in the UK, covering around half a million patients. Centene recently announced the slashing of 3,000 jobs in the US.