17 June

Operose Health and the BBC Panorama investigation

Operose Health was featured on a BBC Panorama investigation on Monday evening (13th June) but despite its attempt to create a splash around a privately-owned NHS provider its results were a damp squib.

Former Journalist and Menlo Park Director James Truswell shares his views on the attempt to create a narrative out of a non-event.

If an undercover reporter spent 6 weeks surreptitiously filming in YOUR practice, interviewing YOUR staff and ex-staff anonymously for days on end, are you confident there wouldn’t be enough for a reporter to cobble together a short feature for BBC Panorama?

No matter how good your practice is, or indeed how good the CQC thinks your practice is, I still think you’d be worried that there’d be enough to make national headlines.

As a former journalist myself I know that if you’re sent somewhere to get a story then you must return to the office with a story. And that is exactly what has happened with BBC reporter Jacqui Wakefield, because having been paid to spend 6 weeks undercover in an unnamed Operose Health practice recently she could hardly return to her bosses empty-handed.

Operose Health was picked as an easy target because it is owned by an American company, Centene, and due to its scale of running 70 practices.

After 6 weeks of probing all levels of staff with leading questions, and then interviewing 12 former employees anonymously, the crux of Jacqui Wakefield’s ‘story’ were three elements:

1. Operose Health doesn’t employ enough GPs and over-employs “cheaper” Physician Associates

The UK has a well-publicised national GP shortage and has done for 10 – 15 years. We are short of 6,000 GPs and in the last 12 – 18 months the shortage has become even greater. Menlo Park has tracked a 64% increase in GP vacancies compared to the previous 12 months, during which time Operose Health has recruited 38 GPs.

Operose (which includes London-based AT Medics) is advertising every day for GPs. Today they have a combined 44 vacancies live across RCGP and BMJ jobs. The argument that OH is using PAs because they are cheaper is non-sensical.

In addition, employing PAs is a NHSE strategy and there is literally a nationally funded-scheme (ARRS) to recruit PAs into primary care. If Operose Health weren’t employing PAs patients would have a longer wait for an appointment.

2. Sometimes it’s hard for patients to get an appointment

The average wait for a routine GP appointment in the UK on the last count was around 3 weeks. The documentary only focused on one specific day in one of 70 practices. In this scenario the doctors working that day are already fully booked, which is pretty normal after the morning rush of phonecalls.

The situation at the Operose site could be any other practice on a bad day of increased demand, annual leave or sickness.

3. Non-clinical staff are first line of defence for document workflow

Operose has dedicated non-clinical staff to focus on document workflow, thus reducing the volume of documents that would otherwise be seen unnecessarily by a GP. Most practices work this way and this frees up more clinical appointments for GPs.

Prior to watching the Panorama programme I expected a much bigger story, but instead Jacqui Wakefield has simply highlighted 3 areas that effect the majority of an under-funded and over-worked general practice in 2022. If your practice doesn’t have any of the above 3 problems then you’re in the blessed minority.

Now the dust can settle and we can go back to practices being regulated and scrutinised by the CQC rather than journalists.

Let us know your thoughts on this subject.

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