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Firms like Richard Branson's Virgin Care are part of Tory plan to privatize NHS – top GP

Firms like Richard Branson's Virgin Care are part of Tory plan to privatize NHS – top GP
The suing of the NHS by Richard Branson's Virgin Care company for £2m of public money is the consequence of the Tory government's "consolidation of privatization" in the UK's healthcare system, a prominent GP and author told RT.

Dr. Youssef El-Gingihy, a GP in Tower Hamlets, London and author of 'How to dismantle the NHS in 10 easy steps' told RT that the current NHS system, overseen by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, is being sold as "integration of care," but is essentially part of a transition to a "US style healthcare model" with "consolidation of privatization."

In the shift towards the government's preferred models of Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) – in which the integration of a myriad of health and social care services is the key objective – private companies such as Virgin Care are able to outbid in-house NHS providers for long multi-billion pound contracts, to take more and more of the NHS pie.

"ACOs/ICOs [Integrated Care Organization] are being sold as integration of care, but in reality they indicate a shift towards US style healthcare models with consolidation of privatization.

"They would enable 10-15 year multi-billion-pound contracts for health and social care for whole regions to be handed over to non-NHS, non-statutory bodies such as private healthcare and insurance companies."

El-Gingihy claims that large private companies with AQP status (Any Qualified Provider) such as Capita, Interserve, and Virgin Care, who take part in blind bids for tender of healthcare services, will take a "strategy of a 'loss leader' to kill the competition."

In the unlikely event that they lose out to the in-house provider, the private company is able to sue the NHS if they are of the opinion that the tender process was not conducted in a fair and proper manner – money that the NHS can ill afford to lose.

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Care group successfully sued the NHS, after losing out on an £82 million (US$108.8 million) contract to provide children's healthcare services in Surrey – pocketing £2 million of public money in the process.

Newly-released accounts show that NHS England and six CCGs paid Virgin Care £1.565 million. Surrey County Council handed Branson's group £440,000 and at least £243,000 more was diverted from frontline NHS services to pay for legal fees.

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Virgin Care acquired £1 billion of NHS contracts in 2016/17, as £3.1 billion of healthcare services were privatized. Branson's healthcare group has more than 400 NHS contracts, including GP practices, in total.

Figures obtained from the department of health prompted by Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth's written question: what proportion of the NHS budget has been spent (a) in the private sector and (b) on contracts awarded to the private sector since May 2010 show that the NHS spent £9bn on private providers like Virgin in 2016-17 – that's 7.7% of the Department of Health's revenue budget.

In his book 'How to dismantle the NHS in 10 easy steps,' Dr. Youssef El-Gingihy claims that over the past 25 years, the NHS has gradually been transformed into a market-based healthcare system. He is of the view that privatization was accelerated under the coalition government when the 2012 Health and Social Care Act was enacted.

He fears that the NHS as a system free at the point of use may not be around for future generations. The doctor says the NHS is being broken up into a "universal insurance system" based on the American model.

El-Gingihy told RT that the way forward to secure the future of the NHS is not through more privatization and the growing influence of companies like Branson's Virgin Care, but through the enactment of the NHS Reinstatement Bill, co-authored by Professor Allyson Pollock, a doctor and director at the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University.

The bill essentially proposes to remove all private involvement in the NHS. If enacted, it would mean fully restoring the NHS as an accountable public service by reversing 25 years of marketisation in the NHS and abolishing the purchaser-provider split. In addition, it would end the contracting out of services and re-establish public bodies and public services accountable to local communities.

Following publication of this article, spokespeople from Virgin Group and its subsidiary, Virgin Care, gave the following statements to RT:

A spokesperson for Virgin Care said: “Our stated preference throughout remained not to be paid damages but that the process be re-run properly in the interests of local families and the frontline staff. Contrary to reports, no money has been pocketed by Virgin Group or Sir Richard Branson and we continue to invest in the frontline NHS services we deliver.”

“We took this action because we were concerned that there may have been serious flaws in the procurement process.  Never before had we been so concerned with the whole process that we have needed to make a challenge of this nature.”

A Virgin Group spokesperson said: “Neither Richard Branson, nor the Virgin group, have made a profit from the NHS and nor will they ever do so. Virgin has invested many millions in Virgin Care, which has improved patient and employee satisfaction and saved the NHS millions.

“Richard has pledged that if and when he could take a dividend (over and above his investment) he will put 100% of that money back into the NHS, with frontline employees deciding how best to spend it.”

Omar Baggili

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