‘Excellent’ Mental Health Unit for Young People in Bristol threatened with privatisation

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October 29, 2015 by Protect Our NHS

In the next few days a decision on the fate of a local inpatient service for young people in Bristol is due to be announced by NHS England (NHSE).

We issue this warning.

The Riverside Adolescent Unit, which has received both a ‘Good’ rating from the Care Quality Commission (1) and ‘Excellence’ accreditation from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (2), could be seriously affected if fears about privatisation become a reality.

The Riverside Unit, a specialised service within the Children’s Community Health Partnership (CCHP), is currently run by North Bristol NHS Trust (NBNHST) who will cease providing all Bristol’s children’s community health services at the end of March 2016.

It’s worth mentioning that NBNHST did not consult any service users, patients, carers or staff about their decision to relinquish these services. Indeed the local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) were surprised by the decision (3).

So the CCGs had no option but to speedily recommission these services for an interim year from April 2016.

The Riverside Unit is being recommissioned separately to the wider children’s community health services.

Virgin Care’s interest

Virgin Care indicated their interest in bidding for the wider interim contract. A vigorous campaign was launched by Protect Our NHS and Protect CCHP to stop a Virgin takeover (4).

As part of our campaign we noted and publicised Virgin Care’s company structure, as follows:

Virgin Care is wholly owned by…

Virgin Healthcare Holdings Limited which is 91% owned by…

Virgin Holdings Limited which is wholly owned by…

Classboss Limited which is wholly owned by…

Virgin UK Holdings Limited which is wholly owned by…

Virgin Group Holdings Ltd which is based in Jersey, Channel Islands

Virgin Group Holdings Ltd headquarters is British Virgin Islands

What’s more, Virgin Group Holdings Limited has received Ethical Consumer’s worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies.

A petition opposing the privatisation of CCHP was handed in to the Bristol CCG in August.

So we warmly welcomed the CCG’s announcement that the interim contact to provide these services would be delivered by a consortium of a local NHS trust and social enterprise organisations (5).

This was a victory for those campaigning to prevent a company like Virgin Care getting its hands on services for the most vulnerable children.

Protect Our NHS and the campaign to protect the Bristol Children’s Community Partnership (CCHP) had successfully brought together staff organised in their trade unions, service users, political parties and ordinary members of the public – young and old – to defend the NHS.

Separate decision about The Riverside Unit

However, the decision about the future of Riverside is being made separately by NHSE.

NHSE is currently deciding to whom they will award an interim contract. It is known that private companies, including the Huntercombe Group, as well as at least one NHS provider, have expressed an interest in running the service.

Huntercombe is the specialist care division of the financially crisis-ridden Four Seasons Health Care Group (FSHC) which is owned by an intermediate holding company, Elli Investments Ltd, based in the Channel Islands which are owned by parent company, Elli Capital Ltd, which is in turn owned by the private equity company Terra Firma, which is owned by tax exile Guy Hands.

Whilst many private health care providers use tax avoidance strategies concerns have also been raised about the use of potentially unsustainable business models which can lead to companies suddenly collapsing, as happened with Southern Cross in 2011, leaving those in their care in a dire situation (6).

At least three of Huntercombe’s senior management team are former executives of highly criticised Serco Health. Huntercombe CEO Valerie Michie (7) was Managing Director of Serco Health during various Serco contracts including the Suffolk community health privatisation controversy. Run by Serco Health these services have now been returned to the NHS. [See (8) for further details of Serco Health NHS contracts]

The extent of the crisis at Four Seasons Health Care, Britain’s largest care home provider, was underscored on October 22nd 2015 when it appointed advisers to carry out an emergency review of its finances  (9). However, NHSE has said that they will not disclose any information about who has formally bid before they announce the overall winner of the contract at the end of November.

NHSE is determining the future of a service which is vitally important to families and young people in Bristol but the decision is being made in secret and without any transparency.  They have said that they are not legally ‘obliged’ to consult on this occasion because they intend that Riverside will be ‘the same service in the same place with the same staff‘.  The reality is that if the unit is taken over by a private company the service will inevitably change.

If NHS England gives this contract to a private company they will be gambling with an outstanding service which is of vital importance to families and young people in Bristol. Not only is Riverside recognised as being one of the best units of its kind in the country, but we believe it is the first to be put at risk in this way.  If this service is handed over to a for-profit provider the consequences for those using it could be severe.

Experimenting with services like this is unacceptable, particularly when they serve some of the most vulnerable young people in our society.

For more information about the campaign see https://www.facebook.com/ProtectCCHP

If you want to support the campaign to keep The Riverside Unit in the NHS you can email Wendy Searle [Senior Supplier Manager – Mental Health, Specialised Commissioning – NHS England South] at wsearle@nhs.net

  1. Care Quality Commission Report on Riverside: http://www.cqc.org.uk/location/RVJ61?referer=widget4
  2. Quality Network in Inpatient CAMHS (Royal College of Psychiatrists) webpage showing accredited units: https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/quality/quality,accreditationaudit/qnic1.aspx
  3. See section 6 in these Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group minutes from May 2015 https://www.bristolccg.nhs.uk/media/medialibrary/2015/10/govbody_30june2015_item7.pdf
  4. https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/james-beecher/bristol-says-no-to-branson-takeover-of-local-nhs
  5. https://www.bristolccg.nhs.uk/news/announcement-preferred-bidder-community-childrens-/
  6. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/spotlight-four-seasons-health-care-britains-social-care-crisis-1499958).
  7. http://huntercombe.com/news-media/news-and-views/2014/April/appointment-of-chief-executive-officer-of-the-huntercombe-group
  8. Failed partnerships with a number of NHS trusts  – see Health Investor “Serco to pull out of UK clinical services market” http://bit.ly/1Oxfg2s. The contract to run the Anglia Support Partnership and provide community health services for NHS Suffolk (remember this: https://www.unison.org.uk/news/article/2015/05/suffolk-community-healthcare-to-return-to-nhs/). GSTS Pathology – Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and Serco Group plc joint venture (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/sep/30/pathology-labs-takeover-failures)
  9. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0f1bf93a-78c9-11e5-a95a-27d368e1ddf7.html#axzz3pObqsYWz

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“That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.” Noam Chomsky

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