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MP: Virgin Milking NHS For Profit

Private health contractor forcing patients to book unnecessary extra appointments to claw in more profits, says Labour MP

PRIVATE health contractor Virgin Care has been systematically booking unnecessary appointments for patients to maximise its profits, Labour MP Paula Sherriff claimed yesterday.

Virgin Care is accused of making “double appointments” ahead of minor surgical procedures at a cost of more than £100 a time since taking over the NHS dermatology service in West Yorkshire.

Before the service was privatised, patients could immediately undergo small surgical procedures such as skin cancer removal, if recommended by a medic, after a single consultation.

Doctors have judged extra consultations unnecessary and believe that they could stall patients’ surgery and recovery by months, said Dewsbury MP Ms Sherriff.

Ms Sherriff, who worked for the service for three years before entering Parliament last year, added that forcing extra appointments was among “many unethical practices” she had seen.

She explained: “I previously worked in an NHS service which the coalition government gifted to Virgin Care, who are now seeking another contract covering my constituency.

“Virgin imposed a system of ‘double appointments,’ forcing patients to have unnecessary extra consultations before surgery — boosting their profits at the expense of the taxpayer and patient safety. Is this acceptable, and if not, what is the Prime Minister prepared to do about it?”

In her response to Ms Sherriff during Prime Minister’s questions, Theresa May refused to promise any action and said that such decisions were for local commissioners to take.

Ms May blamed the Labour Party for privatisation in the NHS and added: “What we want to see in the provision of local services is the best services possible for local people.”

Ms Sherriff is protected from potential legal action by Virgin Care because she exposed the practice in the Commons, where MPs’ statements are covered by parliamentary privilege.

She added: “I will continue to expose the behaviour of Virgin Care in Parliament and I urge other whistleblowers to come forward.”

Speaking to the Star, Virgin Care said that its takeover of the Wakefield dermatology service has saved the NHS £500,000 while leading to 10 per cent more patients being treated.The company had more than 300 NHS contracts at the beginning of this year.

A Virgin Care spokesman added: “The local NHS chose us to deliver this different clinical model with more community appointments than a hospital-based service, and our work improving the service saw patient satisfaction increase by more than 25 per cent.

“Ninety-five per cent of patients recommend the service they received.”

Virgin Care did not comment on how much money it makes from booking double appointments, instead choosing to focus on Ms Sherriff not flagging up the issue during her time with the firm.

The spokesman said: “The MP for Dewsbury was employed by Virgin Care for three years in a non-clinical role and there is no record of ‘unethical practices’ being raised by her during this time.”

However Ms Sherriff responded: “Virgin Care’s failure to keep accurate records is itself yet another one of my concerns when it comes to patient safety. I raised these concerns with management many times, including in a personal meeting with the chief executive of Virgin Care, Bart Johnson, during the autumn of 2012. I look forward holding a full parliamentary debate on this issue soon, so that I can deliver a full, frank account of what I experienced when this NHS service was handed over to Virgin Care. The public deserve to know the truth.”

GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said the government had made possible such behaviour by private companies.

She said: “The government has been reckless in opening the NHS to full-scale privatisation.

“Their mantra ‘no decision about patients without patients’ was just a blatant lie and one that has allowed businesses like Virgin to take full advantage of making profit from patients.”

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