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May 20, 2017

Private Eye Medicine Balls 1439 Feb 24, 2017
Filed under: Private Eye — Dr. Phil @ 11:33 am

Virgin Territory

According to Chief Inspector of Hospitals Prof Mike Richards, the NHS stands on a ‘burning platform’ with 11% of trusts rated inadequate by the CQC and 70% requiring improvement. Understaffing and overcrowding put patients and staff at risk every day. Meanwhile, private providers lead by Virgin Care are busy ‘conquering the community care space’ says HealthInvestor magazine. ‘A market worth around £10 billion has suddenly become a private affair…’ Virgin has already hoovered up over 400 health, social care and local authority services’ contracts, worth over £1 billion. It’s ‘quite the portfolio’ according to HealthInvestor, and other companies are lining up to conquer what’s left. ‘The chance to drink in a £9 billion pool in tantalising…’

There’s a clear underfunding and privatizing trend in NHS and Local Authority services. Between April 2013 and April 2016, 45% of the community health services that were put up for tender went to non-NHS providers. Private operators now run GP and out of hours services, walk-in centres and minor injury units, district nursing, diabetes, musculoskeletal, audiology, dermatology, physiotherapy, podiatry, rheumatology, mental health and other chronic disease services, urgent care, phlebotomy, anti-coagulation, sexual health, wheelchair services, prison healthcare, community hospitals, neuro-rehabilitation, frail and elderly care, health visiting, services for children with complex mental, physical and sensory learning difficulties, social care for adults and children and end of life care.
The whole range of community healthcare has now been privatized while Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt – and Tony Blair and Alan Milburn before them – have the gall to repeat the lie that the NHS is not for sale. The NHS has outsourced its very essence – much of the complex, difficulty care that requires close collaboration and team working has been contracted out. Virgin argues that such care was fragmented when the NHS offered it and that they have a much better chance of joining it up under one organization. The more they hoover up, the more they can join up.

Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act has allowed companies like Virgin to aggressively tender for any service they want, and to legally challenge the award of any contract that doesn’t allow them to make a pitch. Their pitch is deceptively simple. ‘Our aim is to make a real difference to people’s lives by offering NHS and social care services that are better than what went before, a great experience for everyone and better value for the public and the NHS. ’When the NHS pitches for services it tends to be far more downbeat, citing the reality of trying to keep an underfunded, understaffed service afloat in the face of rising public demand and expectation. It’s easy to see how the Clinical Commissioning Groups and Local Authorities who award the contracts fall for the optimistic swagger of Virgin. The company generally employs the NHS staff who were providing the services previously, and gives them smart phones, colour printers and other gadgets you have to fight for in the NHS. It claims that 93% of customers recommend it services to friends and family. If it can provide better services than the NHS for the same cost or less, then why not?

NHS commissioners are often naïve (remember PFI?), and get turned over in contracts, which companies aggressively stick to. ‘If it’s not in the contract, we’re not doing it’ rarely equates with universal healthcare. Yet despite some tough negotiating, Virgin Care has yet to make a profit in 7 years doing business.
In the year ending 31 March 2015, turnover was reported as £40.38 million leading to a gross profit of £5.2 million, but with administrative expenses of over £20 million, the company made a loss of £9.1 million. When will shareholders start demanding it balances the books and cuts back on smart phones? Virgin recently lost its Community Services Contract for children in Surrey. As a whistleblower told the Eye : ‘Virgin Care are now concentrating on recouping as much money as possible, asking for asset templates  to be completed, threatening removal of laptops and mobile phones with little thought for safe transfer of care. They have been restricting information sharing with the new provider and talking about intellectual property rights. Many staff are feeling anxious about being able to carry on with “business as usual” on 1st April.’ Meanwhile, the government is launching 10 year Multispecialty Community Provider contracts to take the pressure off hospitals. ‘It’s another lucrative opportunity for the private sector’ says HealthInvestor