High Court upholds GP surgeries’ takeover by US giant Centene

Protestors outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Protestors outside the Royal Courts of Justice - Credit: Stefania Di Cio

A High Court judge has upheld the approval of transfer of GP surgeries to a US health insurance giant.

Mrs Justice Hill presided a judicial review on February 1 and 2 on the lawfulness of the takeover of privately-owned AT Medics, which runs 37 GP practices across London, by Operose Health, Centene’s UK subsidiary.

Among the surgeries run by ATM are centres in Camden, Islington, Hackney, Brent, Barking and Dagenham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Redbridge. 

The legal battle was between Anjna Khurana, a patient of one of the practices affected, and Islington Labour councillor for Tollington ward, and the North Central London (NCL) Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which approved the change of control in February 2021.

There were three grounds for the challenge: misdirection, the failure to investigate the financial stability of the new companies and lack of transparency and public involvement. The NCL denied the claims in court. 

In her final judgment, Mrs Hill dismissed the claim stating: “I do not accept that NCL misdirected itself by fettering its discretion in the way alleged.

“I recognise the strength of feelings about Centene from the claimant’s evidence and submissions. However, I do not consider that she can meet the threshold of showing that NCL acted irrationally by not obtaining more information about it.

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“I do not accept that NCL had given insufficient notice to the public of the proposed decision.”

Cllr Khurana was backed by health campaign groups Keep Our NHS Public, 999 Call for the NHS and We Own It, together with Unite. They raised more than £77,000 to bring the case to court.

Concerns were also raised at the time by 191 councillors, MPs, including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, mayors and assembly members.

A spokesperson for NHS North Central London Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: As a commissioner of NHS services, our main priority is to ensure the continued provision of high quality, safe and accessible services for local people.

"Our commissioning practices in relation to AT Medics have followed the same rules and guidance we apply to all our GP contracts, with decisions informed by legal and national guidance.

"We have participated fully in the judicial review process and are pleased that the judgment has upheld the lawfulness of our decision making process.

"The CCG will continue to monitor these services, as we do with all the services that we commission.”

Cllr Khurana was contacted for comment.