The diversification of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group seems to know no bounds. He’s already done planes, trains, record companies and a bank. He now thinks that healthcare is the logical next step.
What motivates him? A deep-seated desire to deliver high quality health care, or a deep-seated desire to further line his and his shareholders’ pockets?
Virgin now owns the majority share in Assura Medical, which is bidding to run frontline children’s services across the whole of Devon. This would include community children’s nursing, health visiting, child and adolescent mental health services and some safeguarding services.
Reports suggest that they are likely to be successful in their bid; and that is scary news.
There are already serious problems in the delivery of children’s healthcare; long waiting lists for services such as speech and language therapy; heavy caseloads mean vulnerable families and at risk children are not given the service they need and deserve.
To exacerbate these problems by putting the health of the children in Devon in the hands of a profiteering company like Virgin (or any other set of private vultures) is revolting.
The stated criteria of the Devon tender is for the “most economically advantageous bid” to be accepted; this is nothing more than a race to the bottom.
Private providers will want to reduce staff numbers, attack pay and conditions and cut corners to maximise their moneymaking potential. This is already happening in healthcare; private contracting began under New Labour.
Serco, another company bidding for the Devon children’s contract, were contracted in 2006 to deliver an out-of-hours GP service which was almost immediately identified as inadequate, corner-cutting and unsafe. An improvement notice was served in 2007, but Serco kept the contract.
In 2010, a boy died when an understaffed and overstretched out-of-hours service advised parents to put him to bed instead of sending a GP. Tragedies like this are almost inevitable when services are understaffed. Not only do the boy’s family have to live with the tragedy, but so does the worker who was put in the position of having to work within a deficient, overstretched service that wasn’t up to the job.
The next step in campaigning to defend the NHS has to be local campaigns against contracts going to these private companies. Vultures out of the NHS!