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US takeover: Now new provider wants to shut down surgery site

Company owned by Centene took control without public debate or scrutiny

21 October, 2021

The surgery’s former home in King’s Cross Road

THOUSANDS of residents living in King’s Cross could be left without a nearby GP surgery as part of a private provider’s plan to shut premises down.

The King’s Cross Surgery, which has 7,000 patients on its list, is to be “merged” with Somers Town Medical Centre in Chalton Street.

Both surgeries – a mile apart – were taken over earlier this year by companies wholly owned by the Centene Corporation,  one of the biggest health insurance firms in the United States.

Health chiefs at the North Central London Clinical Commissioning Group (NCL CCG) said alternative sites had been considered – including part of Facebook’s offices in King’s Cross – but these were judged not to be the best “value for money”.

Professor Sue Richards, an executive at the national Keep Our NHS Public group, said: “Community access is a key value of the NHS, and having a surgery close by in your community is important.

“For some people the travel required to go somewhere else is just what will be needed to tip them into not going to the GP at all. And that delays treatment.

“It was only a few months ago that the large US conglomerate Centene, through their UK subsidiary, bought out AT Medics and got the right to carry on with the practice, and already they are planning to close it down – cheaper for them but worse for patients.”

Directors at Operose Health, the company owned by Centene, have stressed it is just the premises that will be closing, with the surgery continuing to operate from the shared space in Somers Town.

The changes also have the blessing of the NCL CCG, which is facing a High Court battle over its decision to approve the change of control earlier this year.

A recent survey of the King’s Cross Surgery’s patients returned a range of responses, with the majority supporting the move. However, there were also many criticising the plan.

“It’s not a relocation, it’s a removal,” said one.

Protests outside Operose’s offices earlier this year

“In an area already struggling with overpopulation, you’re removing a doctor’s surgery and it’s being folded into another already oversubscribed medical centre. King’s Cross has had massive residential development with no thought on how to cater for the increased population’s healthcare.”

Some residents reported that the survey arrived on their doormats a day before the deadline for responses. “This hardly gives people enough time to share their views,” said one, with another saying this was an “attempt to limit public expression of views” on a “highly undesirable solution”, adding: “Outrageous.”

Under the proposed changes, the Somers Town Medical Centre would be expanded to a total 13 consulting rooms to meet the demands of “significant housing developments” planned for King’s Cross and Somers Town.

The merger has set out plans for “a reception desk with two teams of receptionists, respective teams of clinicians and other colleagues to support patients”, adding that: “The two teams already work closely together, and so we expect that the co-location will enhance these relationships.”

Positive responses included: “The move is in the opposite location to where I live, so I’m not delighted that I’ll have further to go.

“But I can’t foresee the extra distance causing me any difficulty.”

Another said: “I live in the new developments of King’s Cross – it is very easy to access the surgery where it is now. It would be great to have a premises on this site for residents of King’s Cross.”

Also among the  responses, one resident said: “If it makes services run more smoothly I am in favour. I am hoping it makes some positive change as I have not found the service at King’s Cross Surgery to be up to standard.”

The lease to the current site, in St Pancras Hospital, cannot be renewed because the Moorfields eye hospital is redeveloping the site in a huge medical and housing overhaul, due to start in February next year.

Including a replacement surgery in the new St Pancras site would “be at the expense of housing units which will affect the viability” of the overall scheme, the NCL CCG report said.

Operose Health said it had “worked closely” with the NHS over the move, adding: “Moving to Somers Town provides a permanent home for the surgery. The new building offers more space so we can provide extra services and a better environment for our patients and staff. We know continuity of care is important to patients, so they can be reassured they will continue to be looked after by the same team in a more modern building.”

NHS North Central London CCG spokesperson said:  “Working with the practice, North Central London CCG explored all available premises options within the area and identified an opportunity to co-locate Kings Cross Surgery with Somers Town Medical Centre, with value for money being considered like in any decision of this kind.

“This proposal will go to the NCL Primary Care Commissioning Committee for approval on 21 October 2021 and the Committee’s decision will be informed by feedback from the practice and their registered patients.”

Last week, a High Court judge ruled that a patient challenge against the Centene takeover would be tested in a judicial review hearing.

 

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