An NHS manager has defended the American health insurance giant that took over 50 London GP practices last year after accusations it hired less qualified staff to do the work of GPs.

Operose Health, which owns Loxford Practice in Ilford and more than 40 other London GP practices, was investigated by BBC’s Panorama in June.

The practice manager at an unidentified clinic owned by Operose told the BBC the company was hiring less qualified and “cheaper” medical staff called physician associates, instead of GPs.

Administrative workers also showed the journalist a backlog of thousands of medical test results being processed by staff on behalf of 30 GP surgeries across London.

This week, NHS managers who commission east London health services outlined issues “with one or two members of staff”.

Following Panorama’s broadcast, Operose Health has reportedly “assured” them with evidence about their workforce and processes.

William Cunningham-Davis, director of primary care transformation for Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, said: “I don’t think they’re sitting there and saying there weren’t any issues with one or two members of staff.

“However there were robust processes in place within that organisation, this was only what we saw on screen, the BBC weren’t able to go in there with us.

“So far the evidence we’ve seen and supplied would suggest they have got robust systems in place, yes, there were failings within it that they need to improve, but we are assured by [the evidence].”

Inspectors from health and social care regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), are also said to have visited the clinic, although their spokesperson did not confirm its location.

Attempting to reassure concerned committee members, Mr Cunningham-Davis said: “We’ve been having meetings with AT Medics and undertaking key lines of enquiry, following the lines on that programme, to have assurance around their governance and operating models.

“These are being reviewed by clinicians and going forward this is highlighting a new framework… around the particular issue of new workforce roles like physicians associates and making sure the appropriate supervisions are in place.

“From an initial review they provided evidence that they don’t have a backlog of patient documentation and have detailed evidence around their training processes for their physicians associates.”

According to the NHS, physicians associates support clinics in diagnosing and managing patients, but should be overseen by a doctor. They train for two years and must first have a “bioscience-related” degree.

Operose Health, owned by US health insurance group Centene Corporation, told the BBC its surgeries are not short-staffed and denied putting profit before patient care.

Its purchase of GP chain AT Medics in 2020 made it the UK’s biggest chain of GP practices and prompted an unsuccessful court challenge due to the lack of consultation with residents before the sale was approved.

When the court challenge failed in February 2022, the NHS north east London clinical commissioning group said Operose must follow the same rules and guidance as other GP contracts.

They added: “We will continue to monitor these services, as we do with all services that we commission.”

The CQC encourages members of public to send in feedback on the quality of care they receive through its website.

AT Medics owns the Loxford Practice in Ilford, which it rated as good following an inspection in 2019.