NHS contracts and Richard Branson

Public Health

On 7thAugust The Guardian published a major story on the theme of the billions of pounds of NHS contracts going to Richard Branson.

The following day there was only one letter on the subject – from Virgin – saying that the saintly Richard has been misrepresented, that he loved the NHS and, if he ever made money from health, it would all go back to the NHS.

A letter in response to the original news item remains unpublished. This is what it said:

Your headline (Virgin awarded almost £2bn of NHS contracts in the past five years, 6 July 2018) comes as no surprise to NHS campaigners in Wirral who sounded the alarm on the champion tax avoider’s local presence eight years ago. Most patients don’t know of his unsavoury involvement as Virgin Care covers its presence in a partnership with twenty local GPs named Peninsula Health. The annual contract is usually relatively small but repeated questions to the partnership and the local clinical commissioning group have failed to establish the size of any surplus and how it is distributed between the partners. But that is almost irrelevant. It was clear from the start that Branson, gurning happily in his sunny tax haven, was playing a long national game using sometimes innocent doctors and unknowing sick people as his pawns, willing to sustain losses knowing that a well-placed partnership would be in an excellent position to profit when the engineered collapse of the NHS sent CCGs and councils scurrying for rescuers. And now it’s happening. Wirral councillors and doctors who should know better are repeating the new NHS mantra that hospitals are not safe and people in one of England’s poorest places should be responsible for their own health. Ambitious GPs are coalescing into “primary care homes”, Wirral is experimenting with “apps”, and the charge is on to further undermine the hospital service and substitute on-line triage and “urgent care centres”. Meanwhile Wirral Council and CCG speak with one voice on health and their soon to be “pooled budget” will reveal its horrors when one picks up major shortfalls in the other, one or other goes bankrupt and surcharged councillors wonder how they got into this mess. It happened when they accepted the logic of NHS England’s “five-year forward view” and Branson’s approach to probity. There was scorn when campaigners noted that “sustainability and transformation partnership” translated as “slash, trash and privatise”. Now the reality has dawned.

Nor did this response to the Virgin Care puff piece see the light of day:

I am grateful to Nick Fox for putting me straight (Letters, 8 August). I apologise for confusing Sir Richard of Tax with St Richard of VHS (Virgin Health Services). I had assumed Richard was the chap whose attempt to sue Lancashire County Council after he failed to win a children’s care contract was thrown out by a judge. And clearly not the person who took £1.6m from the NHS after legal action against the NHS in Surrey. And nothing to do with Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, who personally intervened to encourage the controversial takeover of NHS hospitals in his constituency by Virgin Care in 2012. It’s all turning out wonderfully.