Over 60,000 people have signed a petition calling for Richard Branson to return the substantial amount of taxpayer’s money he took from the NHS after successfully suing after failing to land a private health care contract.

Virgin Care, owned by Richard Branson, sued the NHS after failing to win the £82m contract to provide children’s health services in Surrey. Instead, the contract was awarded to Surrey Healthy Children and Families Services, a consortium formed by Surrey and Borders Partnership Foundation Trust and two social enterprises.

A furious Virgin Care responded by taking six Surrey clinical commissioning groups, NHS England and Surrey County Council to court, saying that it was ‘concerned that there may have been serious flaws in the procurement process’, adding that:

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Never before have we been so concerned with the whole process that we have needed to make a challenge of this nature.

Virgin Care won its case, and although the amount awarded to the company was supposed to be confidential, Health Services Journal spotted a figure of £328,000 in a financial report published on the Surrey Downs CCG website.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said:

It’s scandalous that NHS money is being wasted on fighting off legal bids from private companies.

According to the NHS Support Federation, Virgin Care has been awarded NHS contracts worth over £2bn since entering the health care market in 2010. Only today, news has come out about Lancashire County Council awarding the company a £104m contract for child health services.

In response to the Lancashire contract, Labour and Co-operative MP for Preston MP Mark Hendrick said:

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I am angry. This is not privatisation by the back door, it’s privatisation by the front door.

The NHS Support Federation points out that non-NHS organisations are winning the majority of contracts in several areas: 86% of pharmaceutical contracts; 83% of patient transport contracts; and 76% of diagnostic contracts are now in the hands of private providers.

That Richard Branson – worth an estimated $5bn – is prepared to take £328,000 from a desperately cash-starved NHS just shows that he’s not really the man-of-the-people he would like us to believe he is. He’s just another grasping capitalist ready to make money in any way he can, without a concern in the world for the consequences.

But that’s exactly what we should expect in the Tories’ drive to fully privatise the NHS. Private providers are going to get the nark and sue if they don’t get their way. Virgin Care will only be the start of it.

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You can sign the petition demanding Richard Branson returns the money to the NHS here.

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