GP practice taken over by Virgin Care goes from outstanding to inadequate in under two years

A GP practice taken over by private provider Virgin Care has been placed in special measures after going from outstanding to inadequate in less than two years despite increased funding.

The Sutherland Lodge practice in Chelmsford, Essex, was taken over by the private provider in July 2016 after the previous partners handed back their contracts in the wake of £400,000 cuts to their PMS funding.

Ahead of the takeover, the practice was among the 4% rated outstanding across England. But an inspection report published on 14 May by the CQC reveals that Sutherland Lodge is now rated inadequate overall. The report is based on an inspection carried out in December 2017 – just 18 months after Virgin Care took over the practice.

Inspectors have placed the practice in special measures, warning that if improvements are not made within six months Virgin Care could be stripped of the 10-year APMS contract it was awarded to run Sutherland Lodge.

According to a freedom of information response from NHS England, seen by GPonline, the “contract value rate” of the APMS deal awarded to Virgin was 14 per cent higher than the previous contract. Virgin Care took on over £1bn in NHS contracts last year – a third of the total value of contracts won by non-NHS providers in 2017. The company, part of Richard Branson’s business empire, is expected to expand further into the health service over the next few years. Carol Sams, the former practice manager at Sutherland Lodge, said it was “devastating” to see the rapid decline of the practice. She said that when the previous partnership was forced out by the threat of losing a third of its income. “We had just completed our 19th year underspent in prescribing, our fifth year underspent in planned care and the many extra services we provided under our PMS contract had saved the local economy £750,000,” she told GPOnline.

A spokesman for Sutherland Lodge Surgery said: ‘We were aware of and were addressing issues at the surgery before the CQC’s inspection on 7 December. We have continued to implement our comprehensive action plan since, taking on board the inspectors’ feedback and the vast majority of improvements have been implemented and inspectors have already acknowledged improvements.”

Further major investment has been approved for premises improvements – Chelmsford City Council was advised last year by a spending panel to provide £525,000 in funding for “full refurbishment of the Sutherland Lodge doctors surgery”. Dr Tony O’Sullivan, co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public, told i: “The Government has seriously underfunded general practice to the point where it cannot cope. This is the end result, and it is a tragic example of the effect privatisation can have on our NHS. “Here a contract has been handed over to private providers at the expense of patient care and safety simply because of lack of government funding. With the withdrawal of funding from GP practices it leaves many in an impossible situation and provides fertile ground for companies to profit. This end result clearly highlights how businesses running NHS services for eventual profit does not work.”

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