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Virgin Care beats three NHS trusts in race for Kent community services

Four hospitals from the Kent Community Health NHS FT (KCHFT) will hand over their adult community services to Virgin Care after the private giant beat three foundation trusts in the race to lead the region’s adult healthcare.

Following a year-long procurement process, the two CCGs covering the catchment area – NHS Dartford, Gravesham & Swanley and NHS Swale – awarded the £18m contract to Virgin, effective from 1 April.

The services set to transfer include community nursing, community hospital services, intermediate care, community neuro rehabilitation, speech and language therapy, podiatry and continence services.

This will affect the current providers, Kent Community Health NHS FT and Medway Community Healthcare – whose staff can transfer across to Virgin under the same terms – and will impact four local hospitals responsible for running commissioned services.

The CCGs said Virgin beat the three other local NHS organisations bidding for the contract following an evaluation of hospital and community NHS staff, local GPs, patients, commissioners and health experts.

Seven bids were considered at first, but only four progressed onto the shortlist – after which Virgin was considered the best at demonstrating to CCGs how they could meet the aims and objectives for the region’s health services.

The contract will run for the next seven years, with the potential to be extended by another three years.

Patricia Davies, accountable officer for both the CCGs, which plan and buy most health services in the area, said: “We look forward to working with Virgin Care towards the delivery of high quality and sustainable community health services not just for today, but for years to come.

“As part of our commitment to ongoing patient and stakeholder feedback, with the assistance of a panel of patient representatives, we will continue to work closely with all parties to ensure a smooth and seamless transition for patients.”

Virgin’s regional director, Richard Comerford, argued that the private company has a strong track record of delivering highly-rated NHS community health services. The firm has recently taken over community child health services in Wiltshire under a £64m contract.

But KCHFT’s lead governor, Ken Rodgers, said he was unhappy that the contract was given to a private bidder.

He told the BBC: “Foundation trusts have at their core public governors, elected by the local community, to look after their interests in building and monitoring these services, which is not the case for private contractors.

“This change is against all the values of public representation that I stand for.”

According to the CCGs, there are no plans to cut services, with commissioners specifying from the start that the successful bidder must be “responsive to any future changes in local health requirements” and forecast population growth. Any changes to service provision would have to follow a formal process, including consultation.

No services will be moved around as a result of the bid, CCGs said, and Virgin’s performance will be “regularly reviewed as part of a robust contract management process”.

Commissioners also expect to attract “some savings” across the lifespan of the contract, pledging to reinvest these back into local frontline services.

(Top image c. syd whittaker, Pictures of England)


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