Earlier this week, BBC Panorama revealed the shocking findings of its undercover investigation into Operose Health – the UK’s largest GP chain with 600,000 NHS patients in its care.
The company - owned by the US healthcare giant, Centene Corporation - now owns 70 general practice surgeries across England. The BBC sent an undercover reporter to work in one of these surgeries as a receptionist for six weeks.
In the short time she was employed at the surgery, the reporter experienced numerous calls from desperate patients who had been waiting to see a doctor for up to six months. She also spoke to stressed GPs and admin staff who were concerned their excessive workload would lead to harmful mistakes being made.
It’s undeniable that general practices have faced immense pressure recently but one senior practicing GP at an unrelated partner-run practice told the reporter this was “no excuse” for the insufficient care being provided for Operose patients.
NHS data analysed by Panorama shows that for every 2,000 registered patients, Operose has just over 0.6 full time equivalent GPs employed – half the national NHS average.
Operose has instead placed an emphasis on hiring “cheaper” physician associates (PAs) – healthcare professionals who have completed two years of postgraduate studies after achieving a science degree.
A physician assistant’s role is self-explanatory, they should assist GPs and help to manage their patients. But Operose appear to be using PAs in place of qualified GPs, usually with no supervision. Despite denying any over-reliance on PAs, they continue to employ six times as many PAs as the NHS average.
This data, along with the findings of the BBC’s recent investigation, is deeply concerning. In this article, we’ll explore what the implications are for patient care as well as what you can do if you’ve suffered medical negligence from your GP.
How Does This Affect Patients?
One of the main concerns that came out of the BBC’s investigation was the way PAs were being used at the practice. The majority of these staff members were inexperienced and felt they were being expected to do the same job as a qualified GP.
This situation was picked up on by one GP at the surgery who, recognising the importance of regular communication between GPs and PAs, asked to take time out of his daily shifts to talk through cases with the PAs’ official supervisor. But this was refused by management as they wanted to “squeeze” the most GP appointments out of him for patients.
Both the PAs and admin staff who featured in the undercover footage expressed concerns about important information being missed or mistakes being made that could compromise patient safety.
The investigation found that the central admin team in particular were faced with up to 200 medical documents to process each day. While it’s not unusual for admin staff to deal with these files, they would usually have the support of medical professionals. But at this particular practice, communication between GPs and admin staff was extremely lacking - one staff member even admitted to using Google to help her prioritise patients’ files.
When admin staff raised their concerns, they were repeatedly told by managers to prioritise hitting their targets. This has led to patients’ medication requests being ignored for months and in the worst cases, people with serious illnesses – including cancer - experiencing significant delays in being seen by a GP.
The Care Quality Commission has said it will be following up the concerns raised by the investigation “as appropriate” and we hope urgent action will take place to improve the standards of care being provided by Operose Health.
"This investigation highlights concerns that patients have about the access to and quality of GP care, and raises important questions about a company providing GP care whilst looking to deliver profit."
Medical Negligence Solicitor
How can a Medical Negligence Lawyer Help?
If you think you’ve been treated negligently by your GP, you could be entitled to take legal action. When you get in touch with us, the first thing we’ll do is provide a free claims assessment where we’ll talk through your situation and let you know if we think you have a valid claim.
If we can take on your case, you’ll be assigned an expert Medical Negligence Lawyer who will keep you up to date and informed throughout your claim. We’ll arrange a review of the treatment you received with a specialist Medical Expert who will let us know if they think you were treated negligently.
We understand the thought of taking legal action can feel daunting and by working with NHS Resolution to settle your claim amicably and early, we aim to reduce the stress involved for our clients.
We’ll work hard to get you the compensation you deserve, but we know your claim may not just be about the money. We can help you make a formal complaint to the NHS and will review any outcome.
For initial advice, get in touch with our experienced Medical Negligence team.
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