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Camden New Journal - by RICHARD OLSEY AND TOM FOOT
Published: 21 February 2008

Woman’s legal challenge against American surgery takeover

THE controversial American takeover of three of Camden’s GP surgeries is set to be reviewed in the High Court after a patient launched a legal challenge.

Barbara Saunders is angry that private operators United Health are to take control of her GP practice in Bloomsbury and has warned Camden’s Primary Care Trust: “I’ll see you in court.”
She is demanding a rethink and, if necessary, a full judicial review over the care trust’s decision to hand the company the contract – likely to earn United Health just under £1 million a year – arguing that patients were not properly consulted.
Legal letters have already been drawn up and are expected to land on the doormat of the trust, the borough’s commissioning body, by the end of the week.
The detail of contract has been agreed but has not yet been formally signed by both sides and Ms Saunders’s lawyers have warned that they will seek an immediate court hearing if the trust try to rush through inking the paperwork.
The action bears similarities with a patient ?challenge in Derby which saw United Health miss out on a contract.
Ms Saunders is a regular patient at the Brunswick Medical Centre, one of three surgeries covered by a contract handed to United Health, the largest healthcare providers in north America and one of those featured in Sicko, film-maker Michael Moore’s critique of the health system in the United States.
The Camden Road and the King’s Cross Road surgeries are also due to fall into the company hands from the start of next month.
Ms Saunders’s challenge will be led by Richard Stein, a lawyer and former Camden councillor, who will argue that she was not given the chance to take part in the consultation over the contract, rendering the process unlawful.
A legal letter sent by Mr Stein’s office to the care trust’s chief executive Dr Rob Larkman, read: “She (Ms Saunders) was extremely surprised and greatly disappointed to receive a letter dated 29 January 2008 from the partners at the centre informing her that PCT had awarded the permanent contract for the practice to United Health Primary Care.”
If the two sides cannot agree without the need for court action, the letters could pave the way for the case to be heard by a judge.
Dr Stephen Graham, who has run the Brunswick surgery for the past 12 months and whose own bid for the contract was rejected, said: “We do not believe the PCT has adhered to its own and European guidelines.
“As doctors, our prime aim is to serve the needs of our patients. As a private company, it is to serve the needs of shareholders.”
A spokeswoman for Camden Primary Care Trust said: “The PCT is confident that the tender process that was conducted is legally sound.”

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