Virgin Care And Supporting A Free, Efficient NHS?

Richard Branson, 12 January 2018, wrote “Many years ago, the Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown invited me to Downing Street to discuss whether Virgin could use its business experience to help the NHS. He told me he didn’t think the NHS could continue as it was, faced by a growing and increasingly older population.

“The Prime Minister said it needed to stay free for everyone forever, as it must, but needed a different approach as to how care is delivered to maintain this. He thought the NHS would benefit from being more decentralised to increase accountability, raise efficiency and free up resources to improve the way it cared for people.

“He wanted well run entrepreneurial companies to take on some services at less cost to the NHS, and challenged the companies to improve the experience for the patients and employees alike. Then he asked me to get Virgin involved, drawing on my expertise of running effective, customer-focused companies.

“I’ve always passionately believed in a universal free health service and felt we could use Virgin’s experience in other sectors and our wonderful people to try to help improve publicly-funded health and care. We would aim to save the NHS and local authorities a lot of money by running it more efficiently and by innovating in the way we undertook those services.

“Seven years ago we set up Virgin Care to take on the challenge. In that time its wonderful frontline teams, have improved services and saved the NHS and local authorities millions. It has invested in people and technology and this has been reflected in better patient and employee satisfaction results and reduced waiting lists in its services. The Care Quality Commission, who inspect the NHS and care services, has also given it a series of “Good” and “Outstanding” grades. But, [A GP practice taken over by private provider Virgin Care has been placed in special measures after going from outstanding to inadequate in less than two years despite increased funding. The Sutherland Lodge practice in Chelmsford, Essex, was taken over by the private provider in July 2016 after the previous partners handed back their contracts in the wake of £400,000 cuts to their PMS funding. Ahead of the takeover, the practice was among the 4% rated outstanding across England. But an inspection report published on 14 May by the CQC reveals that Sutherland Lodge is now rated inadequate overall. The report is based on an inspection carried out in December 2017 – just 18 months after Virgin Care took over the practice. Inspectors have placed the practice in special measures, warning that if improvements are not made within six months Virgin Care could be stripped of the 10-year APMS contract it was awarded to run Sutherland Lodge].

A freedom of information response from NHS England seen by GPonline confirms that the ‘contract value rate’ of the APMS deal awarded to Virgin was 14% higher than the “PMS arrangements previously in place”…and it STILL failed!

Branson went on “There is still much more to do, but Care’s teams have been working on innovative programmes to help improve people’s lives when in hospital and when they are being looked after in the community. For instance, one such programme has helped reduce the number of elderly who fall after leaving a community hospital. Another is helping to reduce debilitating pressure ulcers that impact many people. Both of these have been major problems in the NHS and need considerable investment to tackle head on.

“Over the last 50 years, I have been fortunate to build many successful companies and do not want or intend to profit personally from the NHS. Indeed, I have invested millions in Virgin Care to help it transform its services for the better and to improve both the patient and employee experience.

“Contrary to reports, the Virgin Care group has not made a profit to date. If and when I could take a dividend from Virgin Care (which would make us a profit over and above our overall investment), I will invest 100% of that money back into helping NHS patients young and old, with our frontline employees deciding how best to spend it.

“As to the reported legal challenge in Surrey, Virgin Care’s preference was to re-run the flawed process but the contract commissioners turned it into a damages only dispute. Contrary to media reports this money has not been pocketed by Virgin or myself but continues to be invested in frontline NHS services delivered by Virgin Care as it continues to drive improvements across the country. [In November 2016, Virgin Care sued six Surrey clinical commissioning groups, NHS England and Surrey County Council after the three-year £82 million healthcare deal was awarded to a group of in-house NHS providers and a social enterprise. The Labour Party said it was ‘scandalous’ that the NHS was forced to face legal action from Virgin Care and called for the Department of Health to disclose further details on the settlement]

Virgin Care claims “the work we do has to date never made a profit”. That might be true, but Virgin Care uses money to make money, and it receives NHS money. “Over the last three years, over and above the funding we’ve had from the NHS, Virgin Group has invested significantly in our partnerships with the NHS”. Of course it does, that’s what Virgin is all about.

“With The Elders, a group of independent global leaders standing up for peace and human rights, we are working on bringing universal free healthcare to as many countries as possible. In our travels around the world The Elders cite the wonders of the NHS. The Virgin Group and I will play our part through Virgin Care in making sure the NHS continues as a free, well run service for decades to come”.

But Rosie Cooper MP

explained in Parliament what goes on “This constant sub-contracting between private companies severely limits our abilities to hold private providers to account, so where does this increasingly complex and inward-looking operation end? This, at the same time that Totally Plc’s Chief Executive Wendy Lawrence comments ‘also ensuring we create value for our shareholders by securing important strategic contracts such as this one‘ in her Press Release on their recent winning of the West Lancashire GP out of hours service contract.

“To outline the process in full, NHS England devolves commissioning to NHS West Lancashire CCG, which contracts to Virgin Care, which sub-contracts to Totally, which then hands its contract over to its subsidiary, Vocare. You really could not make it up, could you?”.

You could, actually, it’s the money-go-round, through three sets of books, follow-the-money, until there’s no real profit to find.

But what was the real purpose of Virgin’s mysterious report into NHS customer service? It was in 2000 when Labour asked Virgin to report on customer services in the NHS. What they delivered went well beyond this remit, proposing policies and agendas eerily similar to what would become New Labour’s NHS marketisation strategy. Who were the mystery authors, and what was Labour’s role?

We’ll write about that in another report soon.

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