By Marie-Claire Alfonso
Sir Richard Branson’s health firm, Virgin Care, has won a £700m contract to deliver 200 types of NHS and social care services to more than 200,000 people in Bath and north-east Somerset.
Despite protests and opposition from locals, a seven year contract with the for-profit organisation, which will deliver the council’s social care programme for adults and children, was approved on Thursday the 10th of November. Services will be transferred to Virgin Care from 1 April 2017.
A spokesman for Virgin Care said “We are really pleased to have been chosen by the council and CCG to deliver more joined-up care for people across Bath and north-east Somerset.
“We have a strong track record over the last decade of overseeing integration and improvement of NHS services across England and we’re looking forward to working with the many outstanding professionals, and a range of great partners, to provide and oversee high quality, easy-to-navigate services which are shaped by the people who use them.”
Opposition for the contract came from new fears about private health firms expanding their role in the provision of publicly funded health services. Paul Evans, co-ordinator of the NHS Support Federation, has said that “The experience so far from NHS outsourcing is that companies struggle to deliver the level of service that patients need and make a profit”.
Critics have deemed Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt as having an agenda to privatise the NHS. Before being made Health Secretary, Hunt co-authored a book calling for the NHS “to be replaced by a new system of health provision in which people would pay money into personal health accounts, which they could then use to shop around for care from public and private providers.”
By using austerity cuts to justify the move to let Virgin Care provide social care services due to the lack of funding the NHS needs to function is considered to be supportive of the idea
that these are motivated by a conscious effort towards privatisation and the overall replacement of the NHS by Jeremy Hunt.
Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said “Under the Tories, hospitals are facing financial crisis while patient care suffers yet all the Tories offer is further cuts and outsourcing to private companies like Virgin”.
However, Cllr Vic Pritchard, the cabinet member of adult social care and health, said “This decision marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the integration of health and care services in Bath and North East Somerset. Local people can look forward to a more joined up and personalised service in the future with the focus firmly on prevention and supporting people to maintain their independence.”
Lewis Carson, the Unison organiser for the area, said: “We’re fighting to oppose the contract. We have concerns about what this means for staff conditions and service delivery. From past experience we know staff terms and conditions can be targeted for savings.”
Nearly 3,000 local residents protested the contract via a petition by the campaign group 38 Degrees. The authors of the petition – “Don’t let Virgin take over our community health service” – claimed that if the contract was awarded to Virgin “it will contribute to the rapidly advancing privatisation of the NHS”.