How Virgin Care is delivering health services during the lockdown

Kirsty Thurlby, head of service design at Virgin Care
Virgin Care
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
25 May 2020

Kirsty Thurlby is head of service design at Virgin Care. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, her team have had a big job ensuring the important public health and social care services continue during the lockdown, working with NHS bosses and other teams in Virgin Care.

Usually, Virgin Care’s service design team ensures services work the best way possible and introduces new ways of working, such as implementing new technology or working with teams to change processes to make things happen – and that’s work that has been required to scale up as health and care services have responded to the pandemic. We caught up with Kirsty to find out more.

“COVID-19 has produced a new environment for us all to work in,” she said. “For every service, we’ve had to develop a new plan for how they will cope with the lockdown, and early on things were changing on a daily basis.”


Virgin Care supports the NHS by helping to transform community health and social care services so that they can see more people, adapt to new technology and to improve the experience for people who rely on them. It currently runs services across England, from Lancashire to Devon. 

‘Community services’ are those services that aren’t delivered in a large hospital, GP practice or urgent care centres. Due to COVID-19, patient demand for these services is much higher than usual as the services are working to free up capacity in hospitals by seeing more people. Virgin Care is quickly changing the way that they work to manage this, with Kirsty’s team bringing together support from experts across People, IT, procurement and learning and development with expertise from frontline service delivery teams.  

Among other tasks, Kirsty’s team has helped redeploy people from the children’s services team to support their colleagues in vital adult community services. 

“We're redeploying people from an area they're very specialised in, to support adult services, which isn't their speciality,” Kirsty explained. “They're having to learn new skills and support adult services very rapidly. We've already redeployed around 300 people from those services into new roles. It’s been phenomenal to do that in such a short space of time.”

Online consultations

Kirsty’s team has also been helping GPs to continue treating patients. In just two weeks, they managed to introduce virtual consultations at GP surgeries. It’s had an incredible impact.

“Before the pandemic, just 0.8 per cent of GP consultations were done virtually,” Kirsty said. “Now it’s more like 80 per cent. And the feedback has been really positive.”

And it’s not just GPs that have been doing video consultations. Virgin Care has helped physiotherapists in Essex to continue seeing and treating their patients via virtual consultations. Jenny Higgins, a children’s physiotherapist, said: “It has been great to make contact with patients but even better to see them. All the patients I have seen have managed a full functional assessment, the parents reported it was easy to use and everyone thanked me for going the extra mile to continue ‘normal service’.

“Knowing the system is secure and linked to NHS numbers is great as it upholds our reputation of being a secure and professional service.”

In fact, the feedback has been so positive that Kirsty is expecting this to be one of the changes that will stick once the pandemic is over. Jenny agrees: “In the future, I can definitely see us as a service continuing to want to use this video consultation. For example, we would be able to keep appointments with our really vulnerable patients – such as those with muscular dystrophy, or those who are post-surgical or immune suppressant – who we would normally cancel if we had any form of sniffle or cold, by offering a video consultation instead.”

The feedback from clinical and operational colleagues is one thing that Kirsty is particularly proud of her team for. “We’ve been able to respond quickly and support our frontline services to continue during the pandemic,” she said. “And we’ve been able to share our work with partners across the health service. And working collaboratively with local authorities to look after vulnerable groups through the implementation of new services such as the Compassionate Care Hub in Bath and North East Somerset.

“It hasn’t just been a case of doing this for our own services, but we’ve been sharing our solutions and technology so that others can deploy things rapidly too. We’ve worked with NHS Commissioning Groups, where we have provided project management and service design skills to help implement change more rapidly”

Virgin Care workers are on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, working hard to fight this disease. Visit Virgin Care to find out more.

Virgin Group has invested more than £75m to date into Virgin Care’s health and community services and neither Richard Branson, nor Virgin, has taken a penny of profit out of the NHS, nor do they intend to do so. Every penny Virgin Care has received has been used to pay for delivering services, including doctors, nurses and allied health professionals’ salaries, as well as being invested in transformation projects to improve the NHS. If Virgin Care ever does make a profit over and above its investment, the Virgin Group has committed to reinvest 100 per cent of that back into healthcare services.