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Independents' Day

Virgin Healthcare says 300 practices tempted to join network

By Ian Quinn

Richard Branson's Virgin empire has revealed that as many as 300 GP practices have expressed interest in joining its planned network of surgeries across the country.

The company told Pulse it had been inundated with interested parties after up to 3,000 GPs attended roadshows on its proposals to offer partnerships and profit-sharing from the launch of a range of private medical services.

Virgin claimed the reaction from GPs had been overwhelmingly positive, despite a series of protests outside the roadshows, by opponents of NHS privatisation. The company currently proposes just six or seven surgeries by next year, but the level of interest may encourage private providers to upscale their plans

A further 600 GPs have already signed up with another private provider Circle UK, raising the prospect that large tracts of general practice would soon in effect be a public-private partnership.

A Virgin spokesperson claimed the response was proof that Virgin's plans were not a threat to general practice: ‘Around 300 practices have expressed an interest in taking it further. We want to work in partnership with GPs and we want to keep continuity of care. We want to keep the same doctor and the same patients.'

The first Virgin surgery is subject to advanced talks with a practice in Swindon, with several more planned next year. The company held recruitment events in 26 locations.

Pulse has reported that some GPs are unhappy at proposals by Virgin that they would hand over control of all non-clinical staff, despite keeping their GMS contracts. There has also been controversy over the profit-sharing plans, with claims that it could lead to conflict of interest.

Speaking at a King's Fund event, Mark Adams, chief executive officer of Virgin Healthcare, sought to play down fears that the company would pose a threat to the independence of GPs, revealing they would be exempt from wearing red Virgin uniforms, unlike other staff at the surgeries.

Professor Mayur Lakhani, an advisor to Lord Darzi and former chair of the RCGP, told the event GPs should not fear partnership with the private sector in new general practice models.

Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of Wessex LMCs, said the plans by Virgin were no cause for ‘hysteria', but cautioned that GPs transferring to private sector partnerships should ensure that profit sharing schemes complied with GMC regulations regarding patient referrals and conflicts of interest.

Virgin healthcare

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