The LCC has awarded Virgin Care a huge £104million health contract. Earlier this year it was reported in “Pulsetoday” that the procurement of an APMS contract to a private provider, after the closure of a GMS practice, meant costs to the NHS increased by 64%. Partners at the St Lawrence Medical Practice in Braintree, Essex, were forced to hand their GMS contract back after they were unable to recruit more partners, and NHS England replaced it with an APMS contract run by Virgin Care.
An FOI to NHS England, revealed by Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer from Hertfordshire LMC at the LMCs Conference in Edinburgh, showed that the first year of the Virgin Care practice contract cost 64% more than the final 12 months of St Lawrence’s GMS contract. The FOI, seen by Pulse, also revealed that the Sutherland Lodge practice in Essex was replaced by a Virgin Care APMS practice that increased costs by 16%. Sutherland Lodge had earlier been awarded an ‘outstanding’ rating by the CQC but was forced to close due to the PMS reviews.
Now, it has come as a shock to read in the Lancashire Post that the Branson Virgin Care company has beaten Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust in the tendering process to run the county’s 0-19 Healthy Child Programme for the next five years.
The furious Labour leader on the county council branded the decision “privatisation by the back door.” Coun Azhar Ali, who is going to London today talking to MPs about the issue, stormed “This is a massive contract and it has major ramifications for healthcare in Lancashire. It is a terrible blow and could have an impact on the viability of the Lancashire Care Trust.”
“The programme, which covers services such as school nurses and health visitors for children and young people, is worth up to £20.8m a year. It is exactly what we have been warning people about. These contracts are now being given to the private sector and it is clearly the Government’s agenda. The service is currently carried out by the Lancashire Care Trust, but the contract runs out at the end of March”.
The Post understands Virgin pipped LCT by the narrowest of margins in the procurement process at County Hall. The deal is now in a legal “standstill” period to allow the unsuccessful bidders to lodge a formal appeal and The Post understands LCT are considering a challenge.
Unite official Steve Turner of the Protect Chorley Hospital from Cuts and Privatisation group said “This just shows the contempt that the Tories on the county council hold public sector workers in. It is exactly what we have been warning people about. These contracts are now being given to the private sector and it is clearly the Government’s agenda.The decision to award the contract comes only months after Virgin took over the running of community health and urgent care services in West Lancashire, replacing the Southport and Ormskirk NHS Trust.
Preston MP Mark Hendrick said he would be holding talks in Westminster today with other Lancashire members to plan opposition to the decision which involves more than £100m of taxpayers’ cash in the county.“I am angry,” he said. “This is not privatisation by the back door, its privatisation by the front door. I am concerned that this is possibly a political decision, given the new political complexion at County Hall. I will be getting together with colleagues to decide what we should do about it and whether we should take this up with the Health Secretary.
All three key parties involved – Virgin, Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire Care NHS Trust – have refused to give details of the bidding until after the standstill period has ended. A Virgin spokesman said: “We are currently involved in a procurement process and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time. The Trust said: “At present we are in a standstill period, this is part of a formal legal process and as such we cannot comment any further at this time. “LCC declined to even confirm names of the two bidders involved.
The private sector has been nibbling away at the NHS for years in Lancashire. It started with ancillary services like IT provision, contracts for cleaning and catering being farmed out to private providers. But now companies like Virgin are making inroads into healthcare provision, with NHS Trusts outsourcing medical services they can no longer afford to provide. In a Post investigation last year the trust which runs Preston and Chorley Hospitals was spending more than £30m on pharmacy services, £10m on outsourcing medical equipment and a further £11m on agency labour. On top of that £25m was being spent on privatised medical services including acute, renal, oncology, pathology and neurosurgery. Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle described the figures as “astonishing”.
Virgin bought a controlling interest in Assura Medical in 2010.It is now a private provider of more than 400 NHS and social care services across Britain.These include primary care services such as GP practices, urgent care centres, minor injury units and walk-in centres. The company also provides intermediate care services like audiology, opthalmology, physiotherapy and dermatology. On top of that Virgin provides wheelchair services, prison healthcare, a sexual health service, health visiting, district nursing and end of life care. In social care it also provides help for people with learning difficulties, supporting people to live independently and also to find work. But the company attracted some unfavourable publicity this week when, following a legal battle, it reportedly received a large out-of-court cash settlement from the NHS after it lost a bid to provide healthcare services in Surrey. Virgin sued after it lost out in the bidding for an £82m contract for a range of services for children. The contract was awarded to the Surrey Healthy Children and Families Service.