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Camden New Journal - By DAN CARRIER
Published: 31 January 2008
Frank Dobson MP
Frank Dobson MP

GPs warn patient care is at risk as US health giant moves in

AN American health giant is to take charge of three doctors’ surgeries, sparking fury from Camden GPs who have warned the controversial contract will hit patient care.
The Brunswick Medical Centre in Bloomsbury, The King’s Cross Road Practice and the Camden Road Surgery, will all fall into the hands of United Health – the largest profit-making healthcare company in the United States – from March.
But doctors, health campaigners, councillors and Holborn and St Pancras MP Frank Dobson have condemned the decision made this week by Camden’s Primary Care Trust, the body responsible for commissioning GP services in the borough.
United Health is believed to have undercut all of its rival bids by charging £70 per patient per year – in contrast to the £100 budgeted in proposals from local doctors on a 10-strong shortlist.
Nevertheless, the three surgeries, with an average of 4,500 patients, could still earn United Health just under £1 million a year.
Dr Stephen Graham, who missed out, has run the Brunswick surgery for the past year.
“We offered the benefits of a smaller practice, where people get to know their GPs and we know the area’s needs,” he said. “Patients will have to endure a change in doctors. Cost-cutting has won hands down over quality of service provision.”
Dr Stephen Amiel, chairman of the Camden and Islington Local Medical Committee, added: “We are worried the chosen provider may have underestimated the resources needed. The government told us that private providers would only be brought into areas if there was no alternative. Yet, in awarding these practices to a private company rather than to local GPs with a proven track record, Camden PCT is making a mockery of this promise – or perhaps the government never meant what it said in the first place.”
Other failed bids included one from Camidoc, the not-for-profit, out-of-hours service run co-operatively by 300 Camden GPs.
Labour councillor Theo Blackwell said the decision raised fears that private companies would cherry-pick surgeries.
He said: “The danger is they will only be interested in those surgeries that are most profitable. This policy will not help those with problems.”
Lib-Dem councillor David Abrahams said he would quiz the PCT’s chief executive Rob Larkman over the decision at a scrutiny meeting in March. But he added: “The trust have gone down this route because they think it is the best option for patient care. If that is the case, so be it. We will keep a close eye on it and take seriously any concerns raised by GPs.”
Whittington Hospital consultant Jacky Davis, from the pressure group Keep Our NHS Public, added: “It may be United Health have decided they will not make a profit on this, but it will give them an important foothold they can exploit later.”
Mr Dobson, a former health secretary, said: “It is creeping corporatism. It goes against the ethos of the NHS. Are they simply going to go in for selling surgeries to the highest bidder? The American companies are touting for trade here because the American healthcare system is in such a mess – precisely because of policies like this.”
The PCT said the bid offered value for money, allowing cash saved to be spent on other vital health services.
Mr Larkman said: “This has been a rigorous process and we are satisfied we have secured excellent services for patients. We will be working with the practices, staff, patients and United Health to ensure a smooth transition.”
United Health director Dr Pete Smith, a GP, said their experience of running a surgery in Derby­shire proved they had the resources to manage surgeries well.
He said: “We are committed to providing the highest quality family doctor services. We already provide this elsewhere in the UK where we have increased the range of services available to patients, extended opening hours from 8am to 8pm to increase access to doctors and nurses, and initiated outreach programmes to chronic patients, for example ensuring that every diabetes patient gets a regular call from a nurse.
“These services have proved popular and over 1,000 new patients have joined our Derbyshire surgery.”

Firm thrown out by power of the people

United Health are the most profitable medical company in the USA and began to offer new services in Europe in 2003.
In 2006, they bid to control two small surgeries in Derbyshire – and they won. However, a High Court bid by people in the former mining town of Creswell who did not want the company to take over their local GP surgery was successful. They now manage one practice in the middle of Derby.
The company pro­vide health insurance for more than 70 million Americans and include on their payroll Simon Stevens, the chairman of the European subsidiary. Mr Stevens is a former Number 10 health adviser who helped steer through reforms in the NHS.

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