Doctors in Unite (DiU) GPs and health campaigners were out in full force on Thursday (April 22) at a socially distanced demo protesting the takeover of London GP practices by an American healthcare company.
Doctors in Unite were joined by former Labour leader and Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn (pictured below) and Apsana Begum, Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, alongside campaign groups We Own It and Keep Our NHS Public in a coordinated protest highlighting the creeping privatisation of the NHS.
Dozens of protestors targeted the headquarters of Operose Health, a subsidiary of US healthcare giant Centene Corporation, after the company recently took over 37 GP practices in London previously run by AT medics, which was originally set up by six GPs in 2004.
The demo at Operose Health head offices coincided with other protests outside the GP practices that have been taken over by Centene in both London and Nottingham.
Centene has fast become a growing player in the NHS – it has expanded to take over 58 GP practices in total across the UK, covering half a million patients. It is now the biggest provider of primary care in the UK.
Commenting after the protest, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was proud to be supporting health campaigners at the demo.
“If we don’t defend our NHS and the principles of public employment, free at the point of need and available to all, then it won’t be there for the next generation,” he tweeted.
Doctors in Unite chair and London GP Dr Jackie Applebee (pictured below) said the demo was “absolutely brilliant”.
“It was a fantastic and lively turnout from health activists and it was a real privilege to be joined by Jeremy Corbyn and Apsana Begum who are true representatives of the people in the Labour Party,” she told UniteLive. “They are right behind us and understand how important the NHS is to the people of this country.”
Applebee highlighted just how vital it was to defend the NHS at a time when it is under continuous threat from the Tory government, adding, “We really have to keep the pressure up and this was a brilliant start.”
She explained that an American healthcare giant’s intentions with the NHS were clear, because on the face of it, there’s no money to be made in British general practice.
“General practice in this country is really struggling to provide services with a fixed budget that we’re given every year from the government,” Applebee noted. “So the only way a company like Centene can possibly make any money out of British general practice is to cut staff and cut services. And this is precisely the model that these sorts of companies tend to use.”
Applebee added that the company also now had half a million patients’ health data.
She highlighted too that Centene, as an American health insurance company, may see an opportunity with a Tory government that has long professed a desire to introduce a system of private health insurance in the UK.
“This goes back all the way to the 1980s, when Tory MP Oliver Letwin co-authored a pamphlet setting out a vision for a privatised healthcare system in the UK,” Applebee explained. “The NHS has been privatised lock, stock and barrel for years and years, and we know that this government wants the NHS run by private health insurance – this is the way it’s going and it’s a real worry.”
Dr Applebee noted that Thursday’s protests were only the start in their fight against healthcare giant Centene and other private companies of its ilk.
“It’s the start of many more demos,” she said, adding that Leigh Day solicitors have also sent a ‘letter before action’ to a north central London CCG with the hope that campaigners can secure a judicial review of the Centene takeover of GP practices.
“We’re coming at this from all angles,” Jackie noted. “The Tories know that the NHS is their political Achilles’ heel. We need to use that to our advantage and build a really strong patient movement to defend our NHS.”
By Hajera Blagg
Pics by Mark Thomas