Richard Branson has just been awarded a £126million contract to take over services at hospitals in Kent.
Virgin Care, which beat Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust to the lucrative deal, will be able to run health services in the hospitals for the next seven years.
At the end of this period, Virgin will have the opportunity to extend the contract for another three years. The deal follows a tendering process that began in November 2014.
Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust provided wide-ranging care for people in the community, including home visits, care in nursing homes, health clinics, community hospitals, walk-in centres, minor injury units and mobile clinics.
‘After a rigorous procurement process, we are awarding Virgin Care the contract to provide adult community health services in there,’ Patricia Davies, a spokeswoman for two selecting bodies NHS Swale and NHS Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley, said.
Virgin Care will take over health services at Gravesham and Livingstone community hospitals.
Although services provided by Branson’s company will be free for patients, many have expressed concern over a private corporation gaining control of NHS services.
A spokesperson for the NHA Party told: ‘Virgin is very clever at putting together tender documents for public services and so far has won nearly 330 contracts for NHS services across the country. All operate under the NHS ‘logo’.
‘There are many other private health companies also operating as ‘the NHS’, behind the name. The change from a publicly provided NHS to a privately provided one is being done piece by piece and the extent of the change is being hidden by keeping the logo.
‘Breaking up services in this way is not only expensive but causes disruption and removes parts of the NHS from public scrutiny, as private companies have no obligations to answer Freedom of Information requests, as the public sector does. We need transparency and accountability in the NHS.
‘Contracting out services is an expensive business which is just one of the ways in which privatisation takes money away from front line care. It has been estimated that the cost of this market system is at least £4.5bn and may be as much as £10bn. That’s £1 in every £10 that the NHS spends.’
However, Dr Hamed Khan, a GP and A&E doctor, toldthat many GP practises already operate in this way, ‘like small businesses’.
‘I understand the concerns that some people have about private companies providing NHS care, for whom profit is the main driving force,’ he said. ‘However its also important to note that that this how the vast majority of GP practices in this country are run.
Dr Khan added that private healthcare providers have been known to provide a ‘robust’ service, but that he ‘appreciates the concerns that people have about the marketisation of the NHS, where the NHS becomes an umbrella group of different private providers, rather than a joined up centralised system driven purely by the desire to provide high quality patient care.’
A Virgin Care spokesman told: ‘Virgin Care has been providing NHS services since 2006 and last year more than 80% of patients gave a nine or ten out of ten when asked to rate their experience of our care.’