October 9, 2017 by Protect Our NHS
Protect Our NHS continues to draw attention to the true nature of Virgin Care’s takeover of community health and social care services and the development of Branson’s VHS at the cost of our NHS.
In this blog we focus on events closer to home, in Bath and North East Somerset (BANES). Despite a campaign by Protect our NHS B&NES supported by trade unions, Unite, Unison and GMB, as well as local film director, Ken Loach, protesting against the possible takeover of local health care services by Virgin Care in 2016, it was handed a controversial seven-year £700 million contract for adult health and social care services by the Conservative–run council to start April 2017. Previously it was run by a Community Interest Company (CIC), Sirona.
On 19 July BANES Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board (H&WBB) received a report entitled, Health and Social Care Community Services: 100 Day Report. You don’t even have to read between the lines of official council reportage to realise that there have been early problems with the contract: ‘Bank Staff’ issues, ‘Virtual Desktop and Network Roll Out’, ‘access [to] GP records’ are all mentioned.
While the report is quick to talk up ‘Key Success Factors’ the picture that Protect our NHS is receiving from sources within the workplace is markedly different from, and worse than, the official council version, with serious issues ongoing with IT systems and payroll provision. We now know also that just a few weeks before the July H&WBB meeting Virgin Care staff had been told to “hold off” from contacting health watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) as they struggled with IT issues affecting community health and social care services. This was reported locally by the Bath Chronicle which has kept a close eye on Virgin Care in Bath, and was also picked up by The Canary. Basically the message was “don’t whistleblow”
On 6th October BANES Council and BANES CCG issued this statement:
“Reassuring?” the Bath Chronicle (@BathChron) asked on twitter. Not very!
Following the statement, on 8th October the Bath Chronicle reported that CCG and the council say they do ‘closely monitor’ Virgin Care but others are not reassured: Tweeters responded:
But there’s another issue that has not been widely reported: trade union recognition. In an extremely worryingly situation for staff, trade union relationships with Virgin Care have plummeted. Although UNISON has represented BANES health and social care service staff for decades, Virgin Care will not formally recognise the union, stating that a ‘Joint Partnership Forum’ which they operate can serve as equivalent. But, as Unison tells us, this has proven to be wholly ineffective. Basically, there is now no scope for trade unions to have a genuine influence within Virgin Care on the health, well-being and safety and conditions of service of staff.
Our source tells us, “In recognition of the enormous opposition and scepticism to Virgin Care taking on the services, I believe this information will certainly be of wider public interest, and indeed the Council and CCG should be aware of these developments”.
Indeed it is and we have brought this to the attention of relevant parties.
Unfortunately Richard Branson has recently had other priorities to deal with on his British Virgin Islands tax-haven idyll, but we look forward to news that he intends to recognise and promote the value of health and safety of his staff across Virgin Care as much as he does for those of his staff and neighbours on Necker.