The Virgin Group has announced that its new business, Virgin Healthcare, will enter the primary healthcare market in 2008.
Following two years of extensive consultation, Virgin Healthcare will be opening centres jointly with NHS GPs and other healthcare professionals.
The centres will consolidate a wide range of primary healthcare services in modern facilities. The first Virgin Healthcare centre will open later in 2008 – with an initial roll-out of five further centres, located across England, to open by the end of 2009.
Virgin Healthcare plans to work with existing GP practices in their current structures and under their existing contracts with PCTs.
Virgin Healthcare Chief Executive, Mark Adams, said: "The Virgin Healthcare model is to work with healthcare professionals under existing NHS contracts.
"They will retain their independent contractor status and Virgin Heathcare will seek to expand and offer more patient services in existing practices.
"Virgin Healthcare does not intend to bid for APMS contracts."
Virgin Healthcare has stated its aims is "to jointly create centres that provide a selection of services for the benefit of all patients" and to "preserve the most valued elements of primary healthcare and ensure patient continuity of care."
The organisation insists that "the same local GPs working within the NHS will be looking after the same patients" and that NHS services will still be free at the point of delivery.
The range of services provided will be determined in consultation with the local health economy and, as well as GPs, could include dentistry, diagnostics, screening, a pharmacy and a range of conventional and complementary therapies.
Mr Adams said: "Virgin's expertise in customer service, technological know how, communication skills and resources can combine with the expertise of primary healthcare clinicians to make that difference in the healthcare sector."
An early priority for the Virgin Healthcare team is to consult with GPs and their practice teams across England. Between 4 February and 19 March the Virgin team will be presenting their plans to and inviting feedback from GPs and their practice teams in 26 venues located across the country.
Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)
"Virgin has bigger plans for the future, kudos to Mr Branson for such an effective plan. The healthcare sector has been through various ups and downs, and therefore Virgin has formulated a heavyweight plan for the wellbeing of all concerned. It may be a business strategy for Virgin, but what we all care is easy access to healthcare with least expenses" – Rupam Das, India
"My concern, having listened to Virgin's presentation, is that they have plans for the clinical team to remain independant but the rest of the staff will be TUPE'd across – losing their NHS pension. Most partners rely upon their practice manager to ensure that their own and their patients best interests are met. Virgin's framework will take this independent support and adviser away from the partners – so they may have an independent contract – they will retain the need to manage a clinical team who will be their employees but will not be employing the person who is in the HR position! This may give the best of both worlds but I think it will cause a divide and there might be a delay before it's realised and someone starts to shout 'mind the gap'!" – Angela Walker, Leeds
"Goverments have been trying to provide healthcare, however it is expensive and bureacratic. Here is an alternative, let's give it a try and see. Without experiencing another way how do we know what is better? My fellow profesionals should look at it as an opportunity and a challege to the system. Well done Virgin" – Yash Lodhia, Leicester
"It sounds like a very good idea. I am a registered homeopath and dietary therapist, and have been in practice for 11 years. I would welcome the opportunity of working in such a way. Good luck Sir Richard!" – Ann Taylor, Wolverhampton
"Tries to be in partnership. Will it deliver that?" – Name and address supplied
"This is just what the UK needs and what we have been waiting for. Instead of spending precious time processing patient documentation for governmental statistic purposes, let us rejoice! Patients will benefit from quality time spent with family GPs who aren't exhausted, burnt out and pushed to the limit by crippling administration duties. Virgin Healthcare will SUPPORT local GPs by PROVIDING professional administration expertise, sensible, sustainable business know how and absolutely turn the UK's healthcare services around for the better. I am praying that forward-thinking, innovative GPs the whole land over who care passionately about their patients will embrace this unique opportunity with open hearts and minds, and not fester in the past, afraid of change and ultimately positive progress" – Andrew Findlay, Manchester
"This is another model of providing primary care services. Whether you agree with it or not, working within existing contracts implies that the responsible PCT are happy that the organisation with whom the contract is set is able to deliver the same contract. This then is about local choice and local services. While Virgin claim that they are not aiming to bid for APMS contracts, it will be an inevitable consequence for any new organisation entering the primary care market. The recent awarding of an APMS contract to Atos Healthcare is an indication of how times are changing. According to the PCT, the private sector is best placed to deliver these local services. Local GPs strongly oppose this, but the fact remains that these local contracts are being set. When the government appointed 14 private companies to support PCTs in the delivery of practice-based commissioning, this heralded a new approach to how the private sector would be engaged within the NHS for the future. Perhaps, while everyone else was talking about Boots, Sainsburys and Tescos, they simply missed this one coming" – Steve Williams, London
"Frightening! Quality of care will suffer. This is the government absolving itself of providing proper care to the population by getting into bed with a private provider, who will surely be answerable to its shareholders and not the patients it's supposed to be caring for. This is the thin end of the wedge. Don't be fooled by this gloss. Look at Virgin trains and Virgin media. Poor service and appalling customer services. Do you want this to happen to your healthcare? I think not. Keep family doctors independent. They really care and are answerable only to their patients. Hoping this will never be visited in Scotland and will do everything to stop it in England" – Dr Mary Church, GP, nr Glasgow