FAMILY doctors and health campaigners have made a stinging attack on plans for a private healthcare company to take over a GP practice, claiming care will suffer as profit is put before the needs of patients.
From next month, the management of Grainger Medical Group in Benwell, Newcastle, will be in the hands of Care UK.
The company has spoken of its commitment to “meeting the high standards which the NHS expects of us and which patients deserve”.
But its involvement in the North East has sparked fierce opposition from some health professionals who claim the company does not have “a record of delivering high quality GP care in deprived areas”. They also worry the move could open the door to more companies taking over healthcare services in the region.
In an open letter to The Journal, five GPs who formerly worked at Ethel Street Surgery in Benwell, which is now part of Grainger Medical Group, have criticised the move.
The letter reads: “We are concerned to read that Grainger is being taken over by Care UK which is owned by a private equity fund.
“The surgery has a long history of delivering high standards of care to patients from all backgrounds living in this deprived inner city area.”
The medics allege that companies like Care UK “have little interest in vulnerable and needy patients” and are concerned that the firm’s main aim in bidding for NHS services “is to make profit”.
They added: “We believe that patients in the West End of Newcastle have not been properly consulted about this significant change.
“We do not believe that Care UK has a record of delivering high quality GP care in deprived areas.”
In recent months Care UK has made national headlines with failures in standards. The company was investigated as the X-ray records of 6,000 patients were not processed at an urgent care centre in Central Middlesex hospital in Brent, London.
The open letter signed by doctors Gerard Reissmann, Tim Owen, Gail Young, Jonathan Shaw and Lesley Duke, said the private company was chosen over Grainger Medical Group GPs who had also bid to run the service. It is believed that several employees at the GP practice have handed in their resignation in light of the controversial change.
Campaigners from Keep Our NHS Public North East have also hit out at the plans which, they say, are a step towards enabling more private companies to get a foothold of NHS services in the region to the detriment of patient care.
The campaign group is today launching a campaign to urge patients to oppose the takeover of the medical group.
Campaign member Paul Baker said: “We are very concerned about a private company taking over NHS services as we fear that patients will not receive the standard of care that they would expect. It is a slippery slope to private companies getting into local NHS services.
“Our worry is that the treatment and care of patients will go on the back burner because profit will be the main aim.”
Dr Helen Groom, a GP in Gateshead, said: “For us, this is a big example of a private company taking over NHS services.
“There is a concern that more GP contracts that come up across the region will be awarded to private companies.”
Care UK is a provider of health and social care services. It runs 12 GP practices as well as treatment and diagnostic services across the UK.
A company spokesman said: “We are really looking forward to getting to know the patients at the Grainger Medical practice and its branch.
“We are absolutely committed to meeting the high standards which the NHS expects of us and which patients deserve.
“If any part of our operation falls below these standards, we always take swift action, as we did in relation to administrative processes in Brent, to immediately implement the correct process.
“The NHS in Brent has confirmed that it is confident in our improved management and processes.”
NHS North of Tyne, which awarded the Care UK contract, said an in-depth procurement process had taken place and each bidder was required to demonstrate that they could meet high quality standards within the financial constraints of the contract.