"In 2020 Operose had contracts for 20 GP surgeries. Now it's 70. That’s a massive increase of 350%, much of it happening under cover of the pandemic... In anyone’s book that’s looking like a hostile takeover" Cllr Kim Taylor
Cllr Kim Taylor

A Panorama exposee tonight is looking at what happens in US owned Operose GP practices. Lack of staff, not enough GPs, backlogs in dealing with patient paperwork, and difficulties in making appointments and getting through on the phone are commonplace.

Cllr Kim Taylor who had provided BBC researchers information about the situation on the ground in Basingstoke said” I’m not surprised to learn this is a widespread problem in Operose owned practices, but I am truly shocked at the scale of it.”

In 2020 Operose had contracts for 20 GP surgeries, it now has 70. That’s a massive increase of 350%, much of it happening under cover of the pandemic with little public consultation. “In anyone’s book that’s looking like a hostile takeover strategy,” said Cllr Taylor.

Fifty percent of patients in Basingstoke are with Operose-owned surgeries. It started with one practice in 2020 and that’s now been increased to three. Cllr Taylor says CCGs up and down the country, including H&IoW need to explain why they keep giving contracts to big multinational organisations that fail to deliver.

Cllr Taylor provided the BBC research team with a briefing on the situation affecting Basingstoke and the impact it is having on local residents. Cllr Taylor’s own GP survey shows hundreds of patients having long waits to get through on the phone and getting appointments. Many people told her of issues with prompt referrals and getting information on test results as well as problems with prescriptions.

In March 22 Cllr Taylor chaired a meeting with Operose and other local councillors. In that meeting, Operose Managing Director promised an action plan to deal with the issues raised. However, there were worrying undertones, including a refusal to consider reinstating the NHS online appointment booking system allowing patients to book appointments with Drs. It felt like patients couldn’t be trusted to decide for themselves when they needed to see a Dr. Any improvement plan seems to center on the introduction of a new smartphone app.

Operose have said that their introduction of Dr iQ a new smartphone app will solve the problems. However, Cllr Taylor’s research shows that the app’s rating on google play store is very low and the majority of reviews are very negative. Dr iQ together with other IT systems are provided by AT Tech which seems to be part of the Operose stable.

The Panorama program must now throw at least a shadow of a doubt that these “homegrown” IT systems introduced into surgeries after take-over are capable of delivering improvements.

We should not be surprised that big multinational corporations put wealth before health. They are making a concerted effort to enter into the NHS system and sniff out opportunities for profit. They will take contracts and hand them back if they can’t make them work or extract the required profit from them. We have already seen Operose do this. According to their 2018 annual report, a number of decisions were made “to exit contracts that have not historically fulfilled profitability targets, or do not fit with growth strategy.”

If they do this with GP contracts this could leave towns like Basingstoke in a desperate situation and the CCG needs to start making innovative plans to secure primary care provision in Basingstoke.

Cllr Taylor says the problem is that there is a complete lack of Government support and proper structures for GPs and practices. GPs and their staff are working hard and that includes Operose employees. They are not personally responsible for the actions and corporate decisions of their employer.  Glassdoor a site where people can leave reviews on their employers suggests staff are working in difficult circumstances.

The British Medical Association and GDPF have launched a Rebuild General Practice campaign and Cllr Taylor urges everyone to sign their petition in support Sign the BMA petition here

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