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More than 100,000 demand Richard Branson 'stop dragging NHS through courts'

Campaigners oppose private health firm winning £2bn in NHS contracts while engaging in legal battles against it

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 08 August 2018 19:39 BST
Campaigners fear NHS underfunding will lead more contracts to be privatised
Campaigners fear NHS underfunding will lead more contracts to be privatised (Rex)

More than 100,000 people have backed a petition calling on Richard Branson’s Virgin Care to stop “dragging the NHS through the courts”.

Campaigners opposed to the privatisation of NHS services launched the campaign after it was revealed that the Virgin Group has accrued more than £2bn in health services contracts in the past five years.

In response to previous criticism, the billionaire said that he had not taken a dividend from Virgin Care’s activities. When it does turn a profit for him, he pledged to invest 100 per cent of it into the NHS.

The petition, by campaign organisation 38 degrees, has gathered 107,898 signatures in a matter of days.

It says: “Dear Richard Branson, I’ve seen the news that Virgin Care has been awarded £2 billion pounds of NHS contracts in the last few years. As if this wasn’t enough money, your business has also made millions of pounds worth of taxpayers money, by suing our NHS.

“Enough is enough. Will you publicly commit to ending your approach of dragging our NHS through the courts for even more money? The British public wants the NHS to be spending money on healthcare, not costly court battles.

Research published by the NHS Support Foundation in January showed that the group had £1bn in NHS contracts in 2016/17 alone.

Despite his claims that the NHS business was not making him any money, revenues recorded by subsidiary Virgin Care Services increased 50 per cent in the last financial year, making £8m in profit on the back of NHS outsourcing.

However it paid no corporation tax because the Virgin Care group parent company made losses of £19.3m.

The company has garnered significant media coverage over legal battles with NHS groups. Most recently it sued clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Surrey after it lost out on an £82m contract to provide children’s health services across the country. The NHS bodies settled for an undisclosed sum.

A spokesperson for Virgin Care told The Independent this case had been unprecedented and it was not routinely taking the NHS to court.

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

“Our stated preference throughout was 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 funds in the frontline NHS services we deliver.”

A Virgin Group spokesperson said: "Richard has not and does not intend to ever take a penny out of the NHS.”

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