More than 75,000 people have signed a petition calling for Richard Branson’s private healthcare company to return cash it was given by the NHS.
Anger has been growing at the payment after it was revealed just one local health service group reached a reported £328,000 settlement with Virgin Care.
Mr Branson’s company sued the NHS last year after it lost out on an £82m contract to provide children’s health services across Surrey, citing concerns over “serious flaws” in the way the contract was awarded.
Virgin Care filed proceedings in the UK High Court naming the six local NHS commissioning groups (CCGs) in Surrey, as well as Surrey Council and NHS England.
One CCG – NHS Surrey Downs – accidentally disclosed in its October public finance papers that its liability over the case was £328,000, the Health Service Journal reported. But there is speculation the total settlement could be as high as £2m when the other five commissioning groups are taken into account.
Virgin Care and NHS Guildford and Waverley CCG, which was the lead group, both told The Independent the details of the settlement were “confidential”.
NHS England boss demands £350m-a-week promised by Leave voters
The petition reads: “Virgin Care, Richard Branson’s healthcare company, has sued the National Health Service, after failing to win a contract. Surrey NHS commissioners felt the services would be better provided by a partnership of NHS organisations, but in the face of Virgin’s threats, to avoid having to fight a court case, they paid Virgin an amount which some reports suggest is as high as £2m.
“When the NHS is under severe financial pressure, it cannot afford to lose this money. Richard Branson, however, with an estimated personal wealth of over £3.5bn, can manage perfectly comfortably without it.
“This petition asks that Virgin Care returns the money to the National Health Service, and asks Richard Branson to apologise and make a personal commitment that Virgin Care will never again sue the NHS after losing out on a contract.”
John Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “It’s scandalous that NHS money is being wasted on fighting off legal bids from private companies.
Everyone the Government blames for the NHS crisis – except themselves
“Ministers need to make clear how much public money has been used in this case – at the least it seems to be hundreds of thousands of pounds. That is money that could be being used for NHS patients who are waiting longer than ever for routine services.”
Virgin Care has won several major contracts for community health and care services in recent years, including a controversial £700m adult social services contract in Bath and North Somerset, despite protests from residents.
It is the first time a for-profit organisation will deliver a council’s social care programme for adults.