East London NHS bosses have insisted they will review the “whole structure” of a venture capital company that wants to buy seven East London surgeries.
US medical insurance giant Centene plans to sell Operose Health, a company that owns nearly 60 NHS GP practices, to HCRG Care Group, which is ultimately controlled by venture capital firm Twenty20 Capital.
The chain of local practices that could form part of the deal includes Trowbridge Surgery in Hackney, which has previously been the focus of protests by campaign group Keep Our NHS Public (KONP).
KONP staged demonstrations in 2021 in response to the ownership of Trowbridge being transferred to Centene through its subsidiary, Operose.
The other surgeries that could now end up in the hands of venture capitalists include one in Ilford, four others in Newham and Tower Hamlets, as well as a surgery in Barking run under a short-term “caretaking” contract.
During an online consultation meeting last week, some East London residents raised concerns about GP practices being bought and sold by a company whose “sole motive” is making a profit.
Representatives at NHS North East London, which pays for and monitors GP practices, said any company or person has to abide by “strict standards and regulations” to hold a contract.
Resident Carol Ackroyd said most GPs who run their practices as businesses are “utterly committed” to the NHS and their patients.
However, she added: “The massive difference when talking about bringing in big private companies, and even more so when talking about bringing in big private equity firms to run practices, is the sole motive with these companies is profit – that is what they run for, nothing else.”
Others questioned how the NHS could judge the “good standing” of T20 Osprey Midco Limited, one of the companies in the chain of ownership leading from the surgeries to Twenty20 Capital, which is controlled by Tristan Ramus and Ian Munro.
Alison Goodlad, deputy director of primary care, said: “As part due diligence process, there’s going to be review of not just T20 Osprey Midco Limited, but the whole structure.
“What we’re asking them to do is give us information on the company structure, which is quite complex, so we can understand that.”
However, at a recent health scrutiny meeting, NHS North East London’s chief executive Zina Etheridge told local councillors that the process of reviewing a new practice’s owner is “very legally constrained”.
A final decision on whether NHS North East London consents to the change of ownership will be made by a public meeting of its primary care contracts sub-committee in March.
Since the NHS body was formed in July 2022, it has held the sub-committee’s meetings in private and has refused to publish details of its decision-making.
A spokesperson for NHS North East London has confirmed that it will now hold “alternate meetings” in public, but refused to respond when asked why it would not open up every meeting.
If NHS North East London does consent, it will “monitor” the GP services in the same way it does at other practices.
The practices affected by the change in ownership are:
- Trowbridge Surgery– City & Hackney
- The Loxford Practice – Redbridge
- Lucas Avenue Practice – Newham
- Carpenters Practice – Newham
- E16 Health – Newham
- Goodman’s Field Centre – Tower Hamlets
- Victoria Medical Centre – Barking & Dagenham (short-term caretaking contract until March 2024)
- John Smith Medical Centre, Barking and Dagenham – Chilvers & McCrae Ltd