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Private health giant nets £40m gross profit and pays director £621,000

Healthcare business that was once owned by Richard Branson cashes in from NHS contracts

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Martin Williams
12 January 2023, 5.04pm

Private outsourcing has been criticised as threatening the "sustainability of the NHS".

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Mark Thomas / Alamy Stock Photo

The private health giant once owned by Richard Branson raked in up to £235m of taxpayers’ money last year, openDemocracy can reveal.

Virgin Care – which has rebranded as HCRG Care Group – earnt huge sums of money from the NHS and local councils in 2021/22 thanks to more than 35 contracts with public bodies.

Now, the group’s service company has announced almost £40m gross profit, according to accounts for the year ending 31 March 2022. It paid just £208,000 in tax and recorded an overall profit of just under £3.5m.

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The documents, made public today, also reveal that HCRG Care Services Ltd increased its turnover by £4.8m compared with the previous year, while directors at the firm’s parent company enjoyed salaries of up to £621,000.

It comes as NHS workers strike over pay and the health service faces crippling shortages of staff and beds.

The British Medical Association has warned of the increasing number of outsourced NHS contracts, saying it “threatens the clinical and financial viability and sustainability of the NHS”.

NHS outsourcing to the private sector has also been linked to higher mortality rates. And hospitals that use private cleaning companies have been linked with higher rates of the MRSA superbug.

HCRC Care Group – which boasts about having good ratings from the care regulator – runs 21 primary care services, including urgent care centres, GP practices, and out-of-hours clinics, and a range of other services. Last month, the business was commissioned to run a new NHS urgent care centre pilot in Reading.

The group was taken over by a private equity firm called Twenty20 Capital in 2021, which is run by investor and entrepreneur Tristan Ramus.

Previously, under the ownership of Richard Branson, the business was criticised for paying no tax – despite earning huge amounts from public contracts. Records show that, at that point, it was ultimately controlled via the British Virgin Islands tax haven.

Now owned in the UK, it is one of the UK’s largest healthcare companies and employs more than 5,000 doctors, nurses and health professionals.

Figures from 2019 suggest that private companies were handed almost £15bn in NHS contracts in just five years – despite government claims that “there is no privatisation of the NHS”.

However, despite previously opposing private healthcare, the Labour Party has now joined the Tories in arguing that “some private provision in the NHS” should continue.

In December, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said a Labour government would be “using spare capacity in the private sector to bring down waiting lists”.

“Had a Labour government been in office this year, hundreds of thousands more patients would have been treated on the NHS in private hospitals,” he said. “This treatment would be provided free at the point of need.”

HCRG Care Group's chief financial officer, David Deitz, told openDemocracy: "We are proud to collaborate with the NHS and local authorities across the country to provide high quality health and care and improve services for the benefit of patients, colleagues and our commissioners. This is validated by the fact that the majority of our CQC-inspected services – above the 83 per cent industry average - are rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

"It is important that we run a financially sustainable business generating a small surplus – which is in line with what would be expected in any NHS or other public sector organisation – to ensure that we can continue to invest in the tools and technologies that enable us to continue to change people’s lives by transforming health and care."

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