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EDP Exclusive: Richard Branson’s controversial private health company Virgin Care could take over children’s mental health care in Norfolk


Geraldine Scott of the Eastern Daily Press reports:

Children’s mental health services in Norfolk could be taken over by Sir Richard Branson’s controversial company Virgin Care, it can be revealed.

The private company, which provides more than £1bn-worth of NHS contracts across the country, is believed to be eyeing a move into Norfolk – prompting fears about the creeping privatisation of the NHS.

One campaigner said it would be an “absolute disaster”, while another said: “The last thing we need is Richard Branson to join in.”

The possible move by Virgin Care emerged in board papers for a meeting of mental health trust directors on Thursday, which said the process of re-tendering the child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) contract had begun.

The papers say: “Virgin are bidding for CAMHS services in Devon, indicating they will bid in Norfolk, should the tender proceed.”

Research by the pressure group the NHS Support Federation found over the last seven years Virgin Care had been awarded contracts worth more than £2bn and by this year was running more than 400 NHS services across the country.

Last year the firm sued six clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) after it failed to win an £82m care contract.

But the county’s CCGs said no decision had been made, and re-tendering was only a “potential option in the future”. A spokesman added: “It is unfortunate that speculation has been made, in the way it has, in trust board papers.”

Oh dear. Looks like the CCG bureaucrats don’t like the mental health trust letting the cat out of the bag about their privatisation agenda. God forbid that the public might hear the truth!

Remember that Patricia Hewitt, the Chair of the NHS cuts vehicle, the so-called STP, gave up her ‘commitment’ to the NHS as soon as her ministerial car disappeared, taking highly-paid jobs with Boots and the private equity owners of the private hospital chain BUPA. From New Labour’s Health Secretary to the public face of vicious NHS austerity cuts via ‘consultancies’ for private medicine is quite a political journey. Channel 4’s Dispatches termed the peddling of political influence for cash ‘Doing a Hewitt’. What is it about Labour MPs for Leicester?

Campaigners said awarding the contract to Virgin Care would be “devastating”.

Jan McLachlan, from the NHS Norfolk Action Group, said: “It’s interesting how these services have been run down, this is the first thing that happens before privatisation. I think it would be an absolute disaster.”

A spokesman from the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: “We don’t need the private sector. We need decently-funded, well-managed and integrated NHS mental health services. The last thing we need is Richard Branson to join in.”

Self-proclaimed ‘mental health champion’, Norman Lamb, couldn’t bring himself to condemn the move. That’s not surprising, as he has previously said that he isn’t bothered whether the NHS is delivered by the public or private sector. He was, after all, the person Jeremy Hunt called his ‘coalition buddy’. As the Coalition Minister of State at the Department of Health directly responsible for mental health, Norman Lamb failed to stop the catastrophic mental health cuts at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT):

“I’m concerned about the proposal but we also have to recognise we have to do a lot of work to improve children and adolescent mental health in Norfolk.”

According to the NHS Benchmarking Agency, while Norman Lamb was in government, Child and Adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in Norfolk and Suffolk suffered the worst cuts in the country – three times the national average.

Perhaps what is needed is the reversal of those savage cuts rather than Richard Branson?

This newspaper has previously reported funding was given by commissioners to cover 30pc of children who needed help in Norfolk and it would take an extra £36m to reach all children.

And the region’s mental health trust last year topped the list for the number of referrals to treat children and young people it turns away.

What is needed is sufficient money and decent leadership that cares about the quality of services delivered, not privatisation.

The spin doctors at Virgin get involved, probably worried about the impact on Branson’s other brands of his greedy involvement in the privatisation of the NHS:

A spokesman for Virgin Care said it did not comment on procurement but pointed towards a blog written by founder Sir Richard which said: “Contrary to reports, the Virgin Care group has not made a profit to date.

“If and when I could take a dividend from Virgin Care (which would make us a profit over and above our overall investment), I will invest 100pc of that money back into helping NHS patients young and old, with our frontline employees deciding how best to spend it.”

Branson gives no undertaking not to sell Virgin Care and trouser billiions having destroyed the NHS in the process. Taxes are paid on profits, so Virgin Care is unlikely to ever make them.

Richard Branson has been a tax exile from the UK since 2006, which means he has chosen not to live in the UK, to limit the time he spends in the UK, not pay income tax to fund the NHS in the UK. Richard Branson can’t even use the NHS free of charge because he doesn’t live here.

The classic tax avoider’s tactics are:

  • to live in a tax haven and be non-resident for tax purposes;
  • load up UK-based companies with debts at highly-profitable rates from other companies owned in tax havens;
  • never make a profit and thus destroy competitors and avoid paying Corporation Tax;
  • charge your UK-based companies extortionate license fees for ‘brand’ intellectual property and ‘services’ again based in tax havens;
  • and then ‘exit’ by selling to a multinational.

What is Richard Branson doing? He gained his first competitive advantage in business from evading Purchase Tax on records.

Even the Daily Mail has reported:

Just 20, [Branson] launched his business career with a company that pretended to export records that were, in fact, being sold in Britain. Flogging records through mail order, he successfully undercut the prices of established retailers by avoiding the payment of purchase tax – worth £500,000 in today’s money.

After this was exposed by a Customs & Excise investigation, Branson sought legitimate ways to avoid paying taxes.

In 1973, the huge profits from his Virgin Music company’s first hit, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, were paid into a company registered by the budding businessman’s ‘trustees’ in the tax-free Channel Islands.  The album made Branson a millionaire. Ever since, he has paid advisers to construct his Virgin empire through a bewildering series of off-shore companies.

As a result, for 40 years, Branson and the Virgin empire have – albeit legally – limited their payment of British taxes to a minimal amount. Although these tax arrangements have been openly declared in his companies’ annual statements, he continues to minimise his payment of British taxes.

A man who has spent his life avoiding contributing to the NHS now thinks he can own it.

Who does Richard Branson think he is believing that he has the right to decide how the NHS’s ‘profits’ should be spent?

The EDP exposes Virgin’s suing of the NHS:

Legal battles

Virgin Care caused controversy last year when it sued the NHS after losing out on a £82m contract to provide children’s health services in Surrey.

Virgin said there were “serious flaws” in the way the contract was awarded and the NHS paid out an undisclosed sum in a confidential settlement in November 2017.

Surrey Downs CCG initially said its liability in the case was £328,000 in its October public finance papers, the HSJ reported.

But this was later removed and the CCG said the level of detail “should not have been included”.

At the time Labour branded the settlement as “scandalous”.

The company is also caught up in another NHS legal battle, where Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are challenging Lancashire County Council’s decision to award a £104m child healthcare contract to the private provider.

But when Virgin overbids on contracts, as happened on the East Coast mainline, Richard Branson expects to walk away from his commitments, costing the taxpayer millions.

Join us on Thursday 1st March on our protest against greed, mental health cuts and privatisation at Carrow Road outside the South Stand at the entrance for the Top of the City where those responsible for the disaster in mental health services and the planned privatisation are gathering for their ‘Breaking the Mould’ event. They’re actually ‘Breaking the NHS’. Assemble at 11.15 a.m. for a protest between 11.30 a.m. and noon.

You can read more about Virgin Care at the excellent Private Eye.

Click on the image below to read the story in full on the EDP website:


3 thoughts on “EDP Exclusive: Richard Branson’s controversial private health company Virgin Care could take over children’s mental health care in Norfolk

  1. Allwillbewell says:

    A sad a sad and worrying situation. Question that springs to mind is CCGs and STP are staffed, we are told, by professionals at the top of their specialisms. However, dealing with an unscrupulous, ruthless businessman like Branson is a whole different ball game, as Surrey discovered. Have they the necessary skills and experience?

    • Cynic says:

      Except they are not professionals at the top of their specialisms. Secondary health services are commissioned by bureaucrats and GPs in the CCGs who are not specialists in the areas they commission or secondary care. GP’s services are commissioned by NHS England as it was felt GPs could not be trusted to commission themselves. Looking at what has happened to mental health services since the foundation of the CCGs, GPs in CCGs can’t be trusted to commission anything.

      The knowledge and competence of the CCG bureaucrats is not reassuring and their incessant pay rises whilst cutting services does not give the impression that their values and priorities are aligned with patients and carers. Branson will indeed, if we allow him, eat them for breakfast, lunch and tea whilst helping himself to the NHS.


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