Virgin Care set to run social work service in unprecedented deal

Bath and North East Somerset contract would mark first time core adult social work services run by for-profit firm

image of Virgin Care company logo, used in article Landmark deal for private firm to run social work service approved

Private provider Virgin Care is set to run adult social work services as part of a £700m deal to reshape social care and community health support in Bath and North East Somerset.

Local council chiefs and NHS commissioners have met fierce opposition from anti-privatisation campaigners and trade unions over their decision to make Richard Branson’s firm their preferred provider for the minimum seven-year contract.

Approval for the plans will be sought from councillors and the clinical commissioning group’s board at public meetings on Thursday. If they go through, Virgin Care will run three statutory services – adult social care, continuing healthcare and children’s community health – from April 2017.

The deal marks the first time a council’s core adult social work services will be directly delivered by a for-profit private firm, although the council said a clause in the contract will require any financial surplus to be reinvested in services.

Unlike in children’s services, there are no laws preventing councils from delegating statutory adult social work functions to profit-making providers.

A range of non-statutory services such as public health nursing, integrated re-ablement and speech and language therapy are also included in the contract. Virgin will have the option to sub-contract providers to take on some services while retaining overall responsibility as “prime provider”.

Rival bid

Bath’s adult social care services are currently run by Sirona Care, a not-for-profit social enterprise spun out of the council’s social services in 2011.

Virgin Care was selected over a rival bid from a consortium of local services led by Sirona Care. The council and NHS commissioners said the Virgin bid at least matched the consortium in every individual area, and there was a “significant” final difference in the total scores.

A Bath council spokesman told Community Care the authority expected the “vast majority” of frontline staff to continue in their current roles, although they “may be working for a different organisation”.

“Detailed arrangements will be agreed with Sirona and Virgin Care over the coming months but we can confirm that anyone transferring to another organisation under TUPE regulations will retain their existing terms and conditions, pay, and pension,” he added.

Hubs model

Health and local authority chiefs said the Virgin Care deal will deliver more joined up and preventative care by setting up locality hubs aligned with GP practices to ensure “seamless communication” with primary care.

But unions, social work leaders and staff affected have all raised concerns over the move.

Lewis Carson from Unison said the union’s members were opposed to a profit-making firm taking over services.

“We’re fighting to oppose the contract. We have concerns about what this means for staff conditions and service delivery.

“From past experience we know staff terms and conditions can be targeted for savings. Our members are passionate about the care they deliver and there are a lot of unanswered questions about what this will mean in terms of teams, workloads and day-to-day work. We’re extremely concerned.”


One social worker likely to be in line for a transfer to Virgin Care under the contract, said the firm’s track record seemed to be in delivering health services, rather than social care.

“We’ve seen nothing which assures us of their knowledge of the Care Act, the Mental Capacity Act and, crucially, the safeguarding of the most vulnerable residents of Bath and North East Somerset.

“After the final decision is made there will be a very short time period to transfer staff and clear information on the future of the teams has been limited to say the least.

“It had only been five years since we moved from the council to Sirona and this proposal does not fill me with confidence about the value placed on statutory social work, its importance to local communities and the risk that more statutory services will be privatised.”

Ruth Allen, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said the move was a warning sign that councils and NHS commissioners could try to “off-load” the difficult issue of integrating care at a time of rising demand and shrinking budgets.

She said a sustainable financial settlement for social care was needed, adding: “The private nature of adult social care, most often in people’s homes or residential care, and the fragmentation of provision through multiple agencies, are some of the reasons why adult care does not have the visibility and public and political drive needed to unlock the funding needed. This needs to change.

“I am also concerned about how social workers within these outsourced arrangements with Virgin Care will be supported and enabled to practice to meet statutory duties. I foresee many ethical and practical issues, as well as concerns about workforce rights being properly upheld.

“The fundamental issue with outsourcing to for-profit organisations is how can they provide sustainable value on public money and highest quality when they need to show dividend returns to shareholders? It’s a simple equation that rarely works out in the long term.

“There may be a clause suggesting profits will be reinvested in local services but the question is how long will that last and how will surpluses be defined?”

‘Co-ordinated care’

Council bosses and NHS chiefs said the decision to award the contract to Virgin Care followed a “two year period of engagement”

Dr Ian Orpen, a local GP and Clinical Chair of the CCG said: “We have listened carefully to what local people had to say and we have a very good understanding of the improvements they would like to see.

“Many people have difficulty finding their way around the health and care system to get the care they need. Virgin Care’s proposal means that services can be better co-ordinated and people will be supported to access all the services that can help them improve their health and wellbeing.”

Councillor Vic Pritchard, the council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health, said Virgin Care would help join up care by bringing people’s health and care records into one secure place.

A Virgin Care spokesperson said: “We have been providing community health and care services for a decade, working with a range of partners to look after more than a million people a year.

“The Council and CCG’s shared vision for Bath and North East Somerset is for people to ‘no longer need to distinguish between health and social care’. We are really pleased to have been selected to deliver that vision, and we’re looking forward to working with professionals and other organisations in the area.”

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20 Responses to Virgin Care set to run social work service in unprecedented deal

  1. Yvonne Bonifas November 9, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

    I have seen Virgin’s business cases for their takeover and to say it is lacking in detail would be an understatement. A lot of nice sounding buzzwords but many critical problems not yet bottomed out and remain to be addressed. There will be chaos for several years. Still we are now in a post-truth era are we not?

  2. Carol Angharad November 9, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

    So when Virgin Care runs more services than the state & funnels its profits through tax havens while avoiding FOI and accountability the people who make these decisions & those that will be effected will wonder why services declined and where the ethics & morality to social services went.

  3. Steve November 9, 2016 at 2:45 pm #

    I realise that local authorities are increasing have to make cut backs to work with what are unrealistic budgets, but to reduce social care to a money making venture is both vulgar and ethically bankrupt. We are speaking here of clients who are vulnerable and often marginalised, and not a cash cow.

  4. Maharg November 9, 2016 at 2:48 pm #

    “The council and NHS commissioners said the Virgin bid at least matched the consortium in every individual area, and there was a “significant” final difference in the total scores.”

    Me thinks this a statement does not quite add up, or did they move the goalposts when doing the final comparison.

    If a virgin care is so good why are there so many existing staff members so unhappy about working for them. Unless a level of altruism, and a not-for-profit integrity that these individuals appeared to have, may reflect a dislike of shuffling the cards to hide the true nature of the cost, if not for now but for the future.
    As adults social worker I questioned the legitimacy of this move , and the ramifications of this practice.

  5. Blair McPherson November 9, 2016 at 4:38 pm #

    Does the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services ( adass) have a view on this ? If not what not? If they do could they speak up I can’t hear them.

  6. Jason M November 9, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

    Have they provided guarantees they will not cut staff? Or have they agreed to do all this at a cut price to meet a funding limit? In one outsourcing in my area the new provider agreed to take on special education and achieve a 44% funding cut. Great, said the Council. When they later sacked scores of staff the Council denied any knowledge or responsibility. Gutless and disingenuous in the extreme, but this moral wrongness is what now passes for ‘progressive’.

  7. Barbara MacArthur November 9, 2016 at 5:01 pm #


  8. H November 9, 2016 at 8:39 pm #

    Surr this has already been done in Wokingham

  9. Phee November 9, 2016 at 10:51 pm #

    As in Thursday tomorrow or next week? Is there time to challenge this?

  10. Social Worker November 10, 2016 at 7:14 am #

    Something very telling that the business case lacks detail in terms of Care Act, MCA & Safeguarding. That’ll be the social work gone then! The rest of the role is brokerage that ultimately can be delivered by anyone and certainly delivered cheaper than by social workers. Great work commissioners!

  11. Sceptic2017 November 10, 2016 at 7:43 am #

    They need to go and look at another county council and their experience of using Serco . It wasn’t good .

  12. colsey November 10, 2016 at 8:31 am #

    As it says any profit to be returned to the service what does Virgin get out of it given they are a profit making company? What am I missing and would be glad of someone explaining in more detail.

    • Yvonne Bonifas November 10, 2016 at 12:09 pm #

      I suspect Virgin is happy to run Bath at no profit in order to use it as guinea pig for its various untested ideas. Eg it proposes gp hubs yet there appears to have been no consultation with GPS some consultation is listed as a task for The first year. The business case touts IT as the answer to a everythingbut the software has only been in use in another area for a few months and there is no independent assessent if it’s success.

      There is also no guarantee that staff previously tuped out to the current provider Sirona will be able to continue in the local government pension scheme. All this buried in the small print.

      Opponents will have 3 minutes yes folks 3 whole minutes to give their view on a 75 page document to the council this evening. It is a done deal. Only an action of judicial review could stop it now.

      • Nick Temple November 11, 2016 at 5:14 pm #

        It is much more likely that Virgin will simply inflate its internal costs & management fee and therefore magically make ‘no profit’ on the contract, but that money will flow in costs internally to the group (sited in the British Virgin Islands btw). For example, Virgin Care overall has made a £9 or £10m loss the last few years and paid no tax. It is extreme naivety on the part of the commissioners to anticipate profit reinvestment in the community – whereas with Sirona, it is written into their constitution as a social enterprise and they were majority owned by their staff.

        That’s before we get onto their (lack of) experience, ‘ambitious’ costing, staff motivation and morale and so on. Let’s see if it lasts 7 years.

  13. Ruth Cartwright November 10, 2016 at 9:31 am #

    The only way Virgin can be coming in cheaper than others (whether or not their profits are ploughed back) is by diminishing staff pay and their terms and conditions.
    Even talking about making a profit out of people in need is distasteful (although of course it happens in the NHS all the time).
    Virgin won’t know how to handle Social Workers and probably will be getting rid of them as there has long been a doctrine that we are an expensive luxury in adult services.

    • Lin Henry November 10, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

      This is worrying-based on previous experience (personal & that of colleagues). Let’s judge it on the development of good quality accessible services and the protection of service users and staff well being. If it fails on that, it should not be continued.

  14. stephen M November 10, 2016 at 10:20 am #

    The worrying thing, is it only goes to show how inefficient councils are, my council have 3 town halls, (only one of which we own !! after hundreds of years,) now we have Capita being paid for outsourcing, it makes you ask, how many people do we need to “run ourselves” I can see private Healthcare coming in big time ! and that may not be a bad thing! the state would pay private firms to take on certain areas, it is the inefficiency of councils that leaves a profit for the likes of Virgin.

  15. terry davies November 10, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

    Perhaps it is me being critical but doesnt Virgin have a finger in too many pies? Is the franchise intended to be low initially and then gradually increase when the council has dispensed with trained staff and cant take the childrens care provision back inhouse.? Standards will be secondary as shortermism of councillor posts and even mayors mean its easier to continue a cronyist approach to prioritise profit over needs of children.

  16. ClaireM November 10, 2016 at 11:16 pm #

    “Councillor Vic Pritchard, the council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health, said Virgin Care would help join up care by bringing people’s health and care records into one secure place.” So Virgin Care would have control over a huge amount of sensitive medical records. What could possibly go wrong?

  17. ClaireM November 10, 2016 at 11:23 pm #

    ‘Breaking up services in this way is not only expensive but causes disruption and removes parts of the NHS from public scrutiny, as private companies have no obligations to answer Freedom of Information requests, as the public sector does. We need transparency and accountability in the NHS.’

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