The Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs, Deputy Mayor Cllr Rachel Blake and Scrutiny Chair Cllr Gabriela Salva Macallan have written to the Heath Secretary Matt Hancock MP raising concerns about the sale of a number of GP surgeries in Tower Hamlets to an American pharmaceutical firm. They are calling for the matter to be referred to the Care Quality Commission for an urgent review.

AT Medics, which operates GP surgeries within the North Central London Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) including Tower Hamlets, was recently sold to Operose Health, a UK subsidiary of the American company Centene. The merger means that 58 practices who serve around half a million residents are now providing NHS services through this private company. Following the merger, six directors of the CCG who opposed the merger have resigned.

In the letter the Mayor and councillors ask questions about the legal advice surrounding the decision and what checks and balances are in place. They highlight ‘the outstanding work of our public health teams, in partnership with NHS Primary Care services’ which has shown that ‘local knowledge and insight has kept communities safe’ and warn that privatisation by stealth puts this work at risk.

Mayor John Biggs said: “Residents have a right to know about this deal that has seen many GP practices sold off to an American firm. I’m concerned that this has taken place under the radar and we are seeing privatisation by stealth. Over the past year, more than ever, the NHS has shown its value and we need urgent answers to reassure our residents.”

Cllr Rachel Blake, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Adults, Health and Wellbeing said: “Our NHS is a treasured national institution and we believe that this deal requires public scrutiny and that local residents should get assurances from the government about patient care. The NHS must stay in public hands.”

Cllr Gabriela Salva Macallan, Chair of the Health & Adults Scrutiny Sub-Committee, said: “This case exposes what NHS campaigners have been warning about for some time. The scale of this merger and the lack of sufficient processes of scrutiny are a huge concern. They reveal how vulnerable the NHS has become to private interests.”

Full text of the letter sent to the Health Secretary:

Dear Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP,

We are concerned about the sale of a number of GP surgeries in Tower Hamlets to an American pharmaceutical firm. Please can you urgently review this decision to ensure our NHS remains in public hands and is not quietly being sold off to private companies.

AT Medics who operate GP surgeries within the North Central London Clinical Commissioning Group (which includes Tower Hamlets) was sold to Operose Health, a UK subsidiary of the American company Centene. Following the merger six directors who opposed the merger have resigned. The merger means that 58 practices who serve around half a million residents are now receiving NHS services through this private company. We are concerned at the lack of scrutiny of this decision. The NHS is a treasured national institution and has shown its value more than ever in supporting our community in the pandemic.

We represent a borough with high levels of deprivation and the free universal service offered by the NHS is vital to maintaining people’s health and tackling health inequalities and I remain concerned that this might be the start of services becoming focused on profit not people.

The outstanding work of our public health teams, in partnership with NHS Primary Care services has demonstrated time and again that local knowledge and insight has kept communities safe. Losing this through privatisation of local services and an erosion of trust, puts this at risk.

  • Please can you share the legal advice on which this change in ownership was authorized and the contractual decisions were made?
  • Please set out your understanding of checks and balances and points of scrutiny of this decision?
  • Please can you advise how you will be protecting frontline public services in future?

We urge you to refer the matter to the Care Quality Commission to carry out a full independent investigation. We need to keep our NHS in public hands. We look forward to hearing from you.

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