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Camden New Journal - By TOM FOOT
Published: 3 April 2008

Campaigner Barbara Saunders with a petition on its way to health secretary Alan Johnson
Surgeries signed off in campaigners snub

Health chiefs hand over GP services to US company

HEALTH chiefs defiantly signed a contract with UnitedHealth on Tuesday, handing control of three GP surgeries to the American company.
The controversial move came despite widespread opposition among patients and doctors to the takeover.
Camden’s Primary Care Trust had been repeatedly asked to pause negotiations – at least until a public meeting at the Town Hall next week.
UnitedHealth had already been announced as the winning bidder to manage the Brunswick Medical Centre in Bloomsbury, the King’s Cross Road Surgery and the Camden Road Practice, but the final contracts were waiting to be signed.
The PCT board are fully aware of the resistance to the move, largely based on concern that a private company answering to a board of shareholders will be less effective than local doctors, but signed off the deal regardless.
Just 24 hours earlier, objectors protested outside the Department of Health, urging a rethink.
Campaign organiser Candy Udwin said: “We are intent on continuing the battle against UnitedHealth and the wider issues in Camden. There are other companies queueing up to make money out of our health services.”
UnitedHealth, America’s largest healthcare provider boasting a multi-billion-pound portfolio, stands to make around £1 million each year from running the surgeries. The company insists it will improve standards, making it easier to see doctors and increasing opening hours.
At Tuesday’s protest, a petition of 1,100 names was delivered to health secretary Alan Johnson.
Speaking through a megaphone, Frank Dobson, a former health secretary, said UnitedHealth would “foul-up” the health system.
The Holborn and St Pancras MP said: “I cannot understand why there is such a push to move away from the tried and tested method of operating GP surgeries in this country and experiment with the most costly health service in the world. It is bizarre to invite them here.”
Jenny Southward, who has worked for seven years as a psychiatric nurse in Camden, said: “This is privatisation by stealth.
“The health service should be a not-for-profit organisation offering free-level access for all. I didn’t become a nurse to start working for private companies. What will be next?”
After repeated calls for the council to intervene in the PCT’s plan, Lib Dem councillor David Abrahams has organised an emergency meeting for next Tuesday – but by then ink on the contract will have dried.
Labour councillor Theo Blackwell said: “The consultation started one year ago. To have a meeting after the contract is signed shows there does not seem to have been a great deal of foresight. Now it is about putting pressure on the PCT for future.”
The “emergency meeting” is to be held in the Town Hall chamber on Tuesday from 6.30pm.

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