Virgin Care and BaNES Community Health

Community health services were split-off from the NHS a few years back as part of the Tory/Lib Dem NHS reforms. In Bath and NE Somerset they are currently run by Sirona, a not-for-profit Community Interest Company.

This was, of course, only a temporary arrangement. As all of us who have been trying to warn of the privatisation agenda have said for years, handing NHS services to non-profits was only a stop-gap move to soften people up for the desired handover to profit making companies. And so it has come to pass here in Bath, where Sirona’s services look like they will be handed to Virgin Care in a few months time after today’s announcement.

Why does this matter? The mantra of pro-privatisers is along the lines of ‘as long as it’s free at the point of delivery, who cares?’. There are perfectly valid philosophical reasons why proft is best kept out of healthcare, but we don’t even need to consider those to know this is a bad idea. To compete with a non-profit provider on price a profit-making provider must cut either staff or services.

It’s a fantasy to believe that there are huge inefficiencies that will magically be found by private providers. Indeed, before the Tory and Lib Dem ‘reforms’ the NHS was by most measures the most efficient healthcare system in the world. Despite this, some on the political right insist that the profit motive will improve efficiency, whatever the evidence, and the result is services like this being put out to tender.

The CCG has said “There will be a clause in the contract which requires any financial surplus to be reinvested into services in BaNES. Virgin Care has committed to meet this requirement.” Sounds good, right? Well, it’s worthless. Virgin Care has never declared a profit, and the reason is simple. Like many multinationals, Virgin Care is owned by a complex chain of companies and trusts that ultimately reside in the British Virgin Islands, outside the reach of the UK tax man. The upshot of this is that NHS money will almost certainly be extracted and paid to shareholders, tax free. Thinking about it for one minute is all you need to do - why would Virgin, a profit-making company tasked with making money for its shareholders, bid for work they wouldn’t make money from? It wouldn’t.

All is not lost quite yet. Preferred bidder status is not the same as winning the work. The partnership of non-profit providers also bidding (LiNK) could object or question the scoring. Let’s hope they do.