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Virgin Care is set to take over two NHS community health services in Surrey

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e2605 (Published 05 April 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2605
  1. Adrian O’Dowd
  1. 1London

Private firm Virgin Care is to take over running NHS community health services in two parts of Surrey in a £500m (€605m; $791m) deal agreed with the local primary care trust.

Unions and campaigning groups have reacted angrily to the development which they see as proof of the government’s intention to allow private companies a much greater role in the NHS so soon after the controversial NHS changes became law in the Health and Social Care Act (BMJ 2012;344,:e2243, doi:10.1136/bmj.e2243).

NHS Surrey has announced it has signed a contract with Virgin Care (formerly Assura Medical) to deliver community services across much of the county from 2012 to 2017 including community nursing, health visiting, physiotherapy, diabetes treatment, and renal care.

Other potential bidders for the contract who lost out were Central Surrey Health, despite its reputation as the government’s flagship social enterprise mutual, and Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

The £500m contract covers community health services in southwest and northwest Surrey as well as some services provided county-wide, such as prison healthcare and sexual health services.

These services will continue to be known as Surrey Community Health—the provider arm of the NHS Surrey—providing NHS healthcare for Surrey patients. Surrey Community Health is one of the largest community service providers in England.

The trust described the change as a “transfer of management” and said it was in line with national guidance that allowed the trust to focus on developing, buying, and managing the performance of services, thus leaving the provider to concentrate on delivering services.

It stressed that patients would continue to be cared for by existing staff, whose terms and conditions would be protected and maintained, including their NHS pension scheme.

A procurement process began in January last year and the trust said that Surrey Community Health staff had been fully involved throughout the process as had the Surrey Local Involvement Network (LINk), which represents local public, patients, and carers.

Under the deal, Virgin Care will run and manage the services, leasing property, as the ownership of local estates remains with the NHS.

Virgin Care already operates more than 80 services including community based intermediate NHS services, GP led walk in and healthcare centres, urgent care centres, out of hours, community diagnostics and GP practices.

Anne Walker, chief executive of NHS Surrey, said: “The successful conclusion of a long involved procurement process resulting in this contract signed with Virgin Care will bring best quality, safety and value for Surrey’s NHS patients, carers and taxpayers.”

Unison said that despite the government’s promises that it would not privatise the NHS, the agreement in Surrey undermined that claim and raised concerns about profit becoming more important than care.

Sarah Hayes, Unison regional organiser, said: “Both staff and the public do have fears over what this means for the future of the NHS.

“Unison is keen to now work with Virgin Care to ensure that quality health services for all are maintained across Surrey and to support staff in continuing to provide care and a vital service for all patients.”

Campaigning group Keep Our NHS Public said the move was indicative of growing privatisation in the NHS.

Wendy Savage, its co-chair, said: “It is typical of the way that things are likely to go if we don’t mount a really strong resistance to this government pushing things into the private sector. The myth that the private sector is so much more efficient than the public sector is just that—a myth.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2605