NHS privatisation cartoon, by Alan Hardman

NHS privatisation cartoon, by Alan Hardman   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Simon Carter, east London Socialist Party

Despite the recently leaked government draft white paper suggesting reversing “controversial privatisation policies” introduced in 2012, private healthcare operators continue to gorge on the NHS.

In January, the US ‘for profit’ healthcare company Centene Corporation, through its UK subsidiary Operose Healthcare, acquired AT Medics London contracts. This means that Operose now runs 69 GP surgeries in total, the largest GP surgery network in the UK.

Absorbed into Operose was The Patient Group (TPG), which has a history as a failing service provider. In June 2012, TPG walked away from a contract to run the Brandon Street surgery in Leicester. It had failed to recruit permanent GPs for the surgery and a succession of locums was used.

In April 2012, TPG shut its Camden Road surgery in London, bought from United Health. Patients were given very little notice of the decision. Both United Health and TPG were subsequently accused of running down the surgery and there was considerable use of locums.

The closure sparked a public inquiry by Camden Council. The inquiry was, however, abandoned when both United Health and TPG refused to attend. In January 2016, when TPG ended its contract for five surgeries in Brighton and Hove following a funding dispute, some 11,400 patients had to be found alternative GP practices.

In January 2020, Centene increase its stake in Circle Healthcare to 40%. Circle is notorious for walking away from its contract acquired in 2011 to run Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire – the first privately run NHS hospital in England – when it found it wasn’t making the profit expected.

Private healthcare companies cherry-pick profitable areas of the NHS. But when the honeypot runs out so do these parasites, leaving the NHS to clear up the costly mess.

The use of ‘any willing provider’ to run NHS services was codified into the Con-Dem government’s 2012 Health and Social Care Act. This outsourcing was preceded by the Blair/Brown governments’ trialling of Independent Sector Treatment Centres and GP commissioning.

Booting private companies out of the NHS is long overdue. These contracts, along with those of the rip-off Private Finance Initiative schemes, should be made null and void and services brought back in-house. The government should fully fund the NHS, with the public healthcare organisation run democratically involving trade unions representing the workforce and representatives of user groups.