Patients share their fears over future of Tottenham GP surgery

St Ann’s Road Surgery put up for sale after years of complaints over its service, reports Olivia Opara

St Ann's Road Surgery
St Ann’s Road Surgery in Tottenham

Patients of a Tottenham GP surgery have been left anxious with “appalling experiences” as its owner seeks consent for a change of ownership. 

Last week patients of St Ann’s Road Surgery were notified that North Central London Integrated Care Board (ICB), the NHS body overseeing primary care services in Haringey, had received an application from Operose Health seeking consent for a change of control from its current owner Centene Corporation. 

Operose Health, a British subsidiary of the American health insurance company Centene, currently runs St Ann’s Surgery, which was bought by Centene in 2021 after it had acquired the contract of London-based company AT Medics in 2017. This came following the introduction of alternative provider of medical services (APMS) contracts which allows commercial firms to operate publicly-funded primary healthcare provision and employ GPs on salaries. 

However, patients have expressed dismay and disappointment with the surgery’s service, with many being unable to pre-book appointments and rarely seeing the same doctors during follow-up appointments. A BBC Panorama investigation in 2022 found that GPs under Centene allow less qualified staff, such as physician associates, to see and treat patients without adequate supervision.

A survey conducted by the surgery in February 2023 found that 71.2% of patients are dissatisfied with the overall booking of appointments and only 39.2% are satisfied with the overall experience of the surgery.

Diane Paice, a long-time patient and member of the surgery’s patient participation group, told HCP that she “does not feel safe” at the surgery and that her experience has worsened in recent years.

“The practice currently does not understand what patient participation is and what people want is a proper GP service,” said Diane.  “True understanding is that patients are kept updated with everything – it’s not just plastering everything with a rubber stamp.”

Fellow patients David and Rebbca told HCP that their medical and health concerns were trivialised and even dismissed at times by the surgery’s staff and that they believe their poor experience is due to a lack of organisation with the management of the surgery. 

“There is inconsistency and you have to really fight to get some care,” said Rebbecca. “They need to sort out the surgery – it’s just a waste of services,” added David.

The proposal for a change in ownership came as a result of Centene looking to sell its chain of nearly 60 GP practices across the UK in December – with St Ann’s Road Surgery being one of those sold. 

In response to this, patients, stakeholders and local representatives sent a letter to the the chair of the primary care committee which sits within the ICB, Usman Khan. The letter said: “After years of issues around patient safety and confidence at the practice, [the planned sale] has caused further anxieties amongst the nearly 17,000 patients registered.”

Minutes from a primary care commissioning committee (PCCC) meeting last April disclosed a shortfall of 432 GP appointments per week – only 36.64% of the expected 1,179 appointments per week for the surgery. The same minutes also disclosed a total of only seven GP physicians with a whole time equivalent (WTE) of 4.1 hours per week – a shortfall of three-to-five WTE GPs compared to national guidelines.

The current ownership contract of the surgery is expected to end this June and is subject to several conditions, including the demonstration of sufficient GP and clinical workforce, a further survey of the practice’s registered patients and a review of key performance indicators.

Rod Wells, a member of campaign group Haringey Keep Our NHS Public told HCP that the initial selling of the surgery to Centene was something that “a lot of local people opposed” and that patients “are having an appalling experience” with the surgery. 

“What we want is for a locally based group of GP doctors to run the surgery with the interests of the patients,” said Rod. “We trust a group of doctors more than an American company.”

In a letter to Lucia das Neves, cabinet member for health, social care and wellbeing at Haringey Council, and St Ann’s ward councillor Tammy Hymas, the ICB confirmed that Centene’s ownership of Operose Health and its GPs is “under review” and that it does “not believe there is sufficient GP capacity at present”. 

However, the ICB also stated that under its contract with AT Medics, Operose “may not undergo a change of control without [its] authorisation”. 

An ICB spokesperson said: “An application for a change of control is a lengthy process and no decision has been made at this stage. As well as undertaking comprehensive due diligence, we will communicate directly with patients throughout this process, including providing opportunities for people to learn more and share their views.

“We will continue to monitor the quality and performance of all affected services to ensure residents receive the high-quality care standards that apply to all NHS providers while this process is underway.”

An Operose Health spokesperson said: “We are committed to delivering high quality care to our patients at St Ann’s Road Surgery, making sure they see the right clinician at the right time. Our entire team works extremely hard to continually strengthen the services we offer. 

“We are currently exceeding our contractual requirements for appointments and continue to invest in our workforce and higher levels of patient engagement to improve the overall health of the local community.”