Devon GPs hit out as Virgin wins £45m children's services deal

GPs have warned that NHS principles are under threat after private provider Virgin Care won preferred bidder status for a £45m contract to run integrated children's NHS and social care services in Devon.

Virgin Care: preferred bidders for a £45m contract to run integrated children's NHS and social care services in Devon
Virgin Care: preferred bidders for a £45m contract to run integrated children's NHS and social care services in Devon

Devon LMC executive chair Dr Mark Sanford-Wood said the joint decision by NHS Devon and Devon County Council was a sad day for the NHS, because a percentage of £45m of NHS money would contribute to a private company's profits.

‘We are seeing the end of what most people will consider the principles of the NHS when it was founded. Bevan didn’t expect this,' Dr Sanford-Wood said.

But he added: ‘I don’t know the relative merits of the tenders that were put in and I am sure Devon PCT cluster in conjunction with the local authority have considered them and I am sure they have come to the best decision they can come to.’

Following a period of ‘due diligence’, Virgin Care will be responsible for managing and running frontline children’s and young people’s services. These will include services for children with physical, sensory and learning disabilities, emotional health and wellbeing services and public health nursing.

The contract is for three years with the possibility to increase it to five. A PCT spokesman said the next stage is more detailed discussions with the preferred bidder, with the aim of reporting back to Devon County Council cabinet and the PCT cluster board in September with a recommendation to award the contract.

A Virgin Care spokesman said the contract would not undermine NHS principles because services would remain free at the point of use, and pointed out that the NHS Constitution set out the NHS' intentions to work with a 'wide range of private, public sector and third sector organisations'.

He said: ‘A wide range of health, education and social care professionals as well as children and young people who understand and use these services have been involved in coming to this decision and we look forward to working in partnership with NHS Devon, Devon County Council and other local partners to ensure that children, young people and their families in Devon continue to be supported to make decisions about their own lives.

‘We have a strong track record of delivering investment and complex care for children and young people as well as a wider range of NHS services across the country.

'Since 2006 we have treated over two million people delivering services that offer improved accessibility, convenience, satisfaction and most importantly, that deliver improved health outcomes while at the same time providing improved value for money.’

A spokesman for NHS Devon said a number of GPs had been involved in the process that led to the contract award. ‘At least three GPs attended the original engagement events we held in April to June 2011. Two GPs were part of the team who evaluated the written proposals.

'One of these also evaluated the bidder presentations along with another GP colleague. Two GPs sat on final moderation panel in their capacity as CCG representatives. CCG representatives were also at the NHS Devon board meeting last week where the matter was discussed.’

Existing health and social care staff will transfer to Virgin Care under the agreement, with existing staff terms and conditions maintained.

NHS Devon director of commissioning development Rebecca Harriott, said: ‘Bringing together community-based health and social care staff has brought many benefits for children, young people, parents and carers. Keeping these services together and developing them further means finding the right provider with the right vision and commitment.

‘We know that these are important and sensitive services and it is vital to ensure that everyone can be confident that a winning bidder is able to deliver the best possible outcomes for children and young people across Devon.

‘That is why we have been so careful to involve as many stakeholders as possible in the evaluation process including young people, parents and carers and professionals such as GPs and headteachers.'

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