Forty three social workers in Bath and North East Somerset have transferred to Virgin Care as part of a £700m contract to run social care and community health services that came into force this month.
The deal struck between Richard Branson’s firm, the local authority and NHS commissioners is the first time a profit-making company has taken on responsibility for running a council’s core adult social work functions. Under the contract, any profits will be reinvested in services.
Virgin won the tender over a rival bid from a consortium led by Sirona Care, a community interest company which had previously delivered social care on behalf of the council. The decision was met with opposition from anti-privatisation campaigners and trade unions, who questioned Virgin’s track-record in social care.
The company told Community Care it had appointed a “senior social work expert” as part of its senior teams, to work alongside the managers that transferred.
“We will also be appointing further social work colleagues, at senior level, to support the delivery of the new, integrated health and social care service,” a spokesperson said.
These newly appointed staff will provide “professional support” to frontline social workers. Virgin Care’s training and development arm, The Learning Enterprise, will support social workers with professional development, the spokesperson added.
Virgin said there would be no changes to services during the first 100 days in order to allow for a transition period. The contract allows the firm to act as a “prime provider” and subcontract some services, but the company said it had no plans to apply this to social work services.
“We are proud to have welcomed many talented and hard-working colleagues to our team, and pleased to begin our journey together to deliver a new, integrated health and social care service and, together with our commissioners, deliver a responsive and high quality service,” the spokesperson said.
“Following the successful safe transfer of services on 1 April, we are now working closely with our teams through a comprehensive induction programme and to finalise our transformation roadmap for the next few years, at events over the coming month with all of our colleagues having the opportunity to contribute.”
Bath and North East Somerset Council said existing arrangements for adult safeguarding would continue. These see investigations carried out by staff at providers – previously Sirona, now Virgin Care – but the council retains a team of staff at team-manager level to chair all safeguarding meetings, make formal decisions and undertake quality assurance work.
The council and Virgin Care have said that the contract aims to deliver a more joined up health and care system. Virgin Care’s business case document – which contains no explicit discussion of social work functions – mentions services having a single call centre, as well as creating integrated health and social care ‘hubs’ based around GP surgeries, but it is unclear as yet how these would work.