Virgin Care has hoovered up nearly £2bn of health service contracts over the last five years, new analysis that provides a worrying insight into the creeping privatisation of the NHS shows.
In 2016-17 alone, Virgin Care was handed around £1bn worth of NHS England contracts – far more than any than of its private competitors were awarded during the same period.
Unite called on MPs to investigate how Richard Branson’s Virgin empire and other private healthcare companies have acquired such a plethora of NHS contracts.
The union said Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the health and social care select committee, should look at how these contracts were awarded and whether they offer value for money to the taxpayer.
The call came after an investigation by the Guardian revealed that Virgin Care is now one of the biggest healthcare providers in the country.
The company and its offshoots now have at least 400 public sector contracts, from prison healthcare to dementia care and school vaccination programmes.
Last year the NHS was forced to pay Virgin £2m in a dispute over contracts for children’s services in Surrey.
Unite head of health Sarah Carpenter said, “MPs should ask for more transparency and openness into how Virgin has stealthily become one of the UK’s leading healthcare providers. There is a level of opaqueness about how these contracts are awarded that is worrying.
“The privatisation of the NHS has little to do with improving patient care, and everything to the right-wing ideology that lauds the private sector and disregards the public service ethos underpinning the NHS.”
Carpenter added, “Unfortunately, there is little indication currently from the new health and social care secretary Matt Hancock that the direction of travel regarding NHS privatisation will be reversed.
“Patient care should not be put up for auction to private healthcare providers.”
Labour also raised concerns about the Tories’ privatisation agenda, pointing out that since the introduction of the Health and Social Care Act in 2012 one-third of contracts have been awarded to private firms.
“Some of these contracts are vast and their failures have wasted millions of pounds of public money,” said Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders MP.
“After the biggest funding squeeze in NHS history, it is essential that every penny is going to frontline services and to improving patient care rather than padding out private profits.
“This government’s privatisation agenda is a huge threat to patient care. Labour will reverse NHS privatisation and return our health service into expert public control.”