Virgin Care just sued the NHS for a fortune – but the Tories and Lib Dems made it possible

Richard Branson's company won a legal battle against a cash-strapped health service - over a tendering process we never should have had.

When offering advice to budding entrepreneurs, Richard Branson is keen to talk up the importance of building a good reputation. The Virgin boss says: “all you have in business is your reputation – make sure you can sleep soundly at night.” 

Good advice – it just reeks of hypocrisy coming from a multi-billionaire who has seemingly gone out of his way to toxify the Virgin brand he in recent years.

From revelling in his personal and professional attempts to avoid paying tax in the UK, to smearing the leader of the Labour Party (thereby deflecting criticism of his train service), and from wading into the EU referendum debate unwanted to buying up and closing down NHS services across the UK – the brand is not looking good.

Now, the response to these incidents might have varied depending on how you cast your vote in the EU referendum or the General Election. But Branson’s latest scandal is likely to universally appal, regardless of political affiliation.

Just a few days ago, his company was successful in suing the NHS over a tendering battle – reportedly leaving a cash-strapped Clinical Commissioning Group with financial liabilities running to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

To trace back the roots of this scandal, we have to go back to the Coalition government. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in power pushed through the Health and Social Care Act 2012. One of the most singularly damaging pieces of legislation brought in in the last decade, the act has forced an increasingly fragmented and marketised internal structure on the NHS.

It is in this marketised environment that the predatory Virgin Care arm of Branson’s empire has thrived, as hospitals are pressured to overlook in-house NHS providers in favour of private healthcare companies. Currently, the firm is thought to hold well over £2 billion worth of contracts with our NHS.

But that is not enough for Branson. When the NHS in Surrey ran the tendering process for a contract to provide £82 million worth of children’s services – an expensive procedure forced on them by the Health and Social Care Act – it concluded that a consortium of mainly in-house NHS providers was best placed to provide the best care for patients.

The NHS awarded an NHS contract to NHS providers – arguably in the best interests of patients. Virgin Care, who bid against NHS providers for the contract, however, took issue with Surrey NHS bosses’ decision.

Virgin Care didn’t take their failure to win the contract as a judgement on the way they operated the services they already ran in Surrey. Instead, they stayed true to Richard Branson’s business motto of “failure is only the end if you decide to stop.” Branson’s healthcare firm didn’t stop. Instead, it rejected the Surrey’s conclusions and launched a bitter bid to sue our taxpayer-funded NHS.

That legal dispute was resolved out of court this week, with at least £328,000 being handed over to Virgin Care. The figure only came to light because Surrey Downs NHS, just one of the six Surrey Clinical Commissioning Groups Virgin Care were suing, accidentally published their ‘liability’ in the case. Well-informed campaigners close to the case assure me the full settlement is expected to cost taxpayers more than £2 million pounds.

We aren’t likely to ever know the true cost, however, because Virgin Care and the NHS in Surrey have sworn themselves to secrecy – despite taxpayers footing the bill and the details of the case being very much in the public interest.

At best, £328,000 worth of patient care has just evaporated from Surrey NHS budgets because healthcare managers refused to roll over for the government’s favoured fat cats.

At the same time, Tory Ministers are starving our NHS of resources: the service hasn’t seen funding levels so low since the 1950s. The cash handed over to Virgin is desperately needed in Surrey, as it is across the county, to treat the patients that are already suffering from the government’s ideological attacks on our health service. In Surrey, for example, children are being forced to wait for months for mental health support.

And Branson’s latest scandal is only set to make the situation far worse. This case will give Virgin Care and other private healthcare firms license to threaten NHS trusts across the country with legal action if they don’t get their own way.

Thanks to the Tories and Lib Dems, we have an NHS now forced to serve the markets, rather than being free to serve their patients.

And thanks to Richard Branson, we have predatory firms like Virgin Care ready to exploit the situation for profit while patients suffer.

We must stop the decline: it is time for politicians and the public to get behind the cross-party campaign to restore our NHS as a fully funded, truly public health service.

Keith Taylor is the Green Party MEP for South East England. 

Image: Creative Commons – Daly3D

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6 Responses to “Virgin Care just sued the NHS for a fortune – but the Tories and Lib Dems made it possible”

  1. Dulari-Leiylah Markelke

    This is alarming and a full analysis of privatisation of nhs services need to be made public given the public in general are very dependent and proud of nhs which under tories is under serious
    privatisation threat!!!!!!

  2. William

    Richard Branson thinks the world loves the ground he walks on while in actual fact people I have talked to loath him for the way his companies have developed.
    Too much is never enough for greedy buisness folk like him.
    He reminds me of Tony Blair in the way he smiles in front of the cameras and then laughs when the cameras are turned off.

  3. Richard Burton

    Thanks for this informative article. I’m just off to cancel my Virgin internet account and go with a rather more ethical provider.

  4. Charles Holmes

    Branson has got filthy rich by picking the pockets of the British tax payers via Virgin Train subsidies a well as the NHS.
    The 2012 Health and Social Care created fragmentation and confusion at great expense and has resulted in continuous chaos and has dismantled the cohesion and co-operation and collaboration that are essential if patients complex health needs are to be met.

  5. ad

    Terrible. Clearly government agencies like the NHS should be above the law.

  6. Benedict leVay

    well I don’t like this either, but it’s chicken feed and about a contract the NHS managers bungled. It would be good PR for Branson to hand it back, frankly,and point out the millions they are investing in health care. What isn’t chicken feed is that Labour gave our hospitals to private companies under the PFI contracts that will cost us maybe a hundred times this every year for years to come. But that doesn’t arouse much anger. Why?

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