Many years ago, the Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown invited me to Downing Street to discuss whether Virgin could use its business experience to help the NHS.
He told me he didn’t think the NHS could continue as it was, faced by a growing and increasingly older population. The Prime Minister said it needed to stay free for everyone forever – as it must - but needed a different approach as to how care is delivered to maintain this. He thought the NHS would benefit from being more decentralised to increase accountability, raise efficiency and free up resources to improve the way it cared for people.
He wanted well run entrepreneurial companies to take on some services at less cost to the NHS, and challenged the companies to improve the experience for the patients and employees alike. Then he asked me to get Virgin involved, drawing on my expertise of running effective, customer-focused companies.
I’ve always passionately believed in a universal free health service and felt we could use Virgin’s experience in other sectors and our wonderful people to try to help improve publicly-funded health and care. We would aim to save the NHS and local authorities a lot of money by running it more efficiently and by innovating in the way we undertook those services.
Seven years ago we set up Virgin Care to take on the challenge. In that time its wonderful frontline teams, have improved services and saved the NHS and local authorities millions. It has invested in people and technology and this has been reflected in better patient and employee satisfaction results and reduced waiting lists in its services. The Care Quality Commission, who inspect the NHS and care services, has also given it a series of “Good” and “Outstanding” grades.
There is still much more to do, but Care’s teams have been working on innovative programmes to help improve people’s lives when in hospital and when they are being looked after in the community. For instance, one such programme has helped reduce the number of elderly who fall after leaving a community hospital. Another is helping to reduce debilitating pressure ulcers that impact many people. Both of these have been major problems in the NHS and need considerable investment to tackle head on.
Over the last 50 years, I have been fortunate to build many successful companies and do not want or intend to profit personally from the NHS. Indeed, I have invested millions in Virgin Care to help it transform its services for the better and to improve both the patient and employee experience.
Contrary to reports, the Virgin Care group has not made a profit to date. If and when I could take a dividend from Virgin Care (which would make us a profit over and above our overall investment), I will invest 100% of that money back into helping NHS patients young and old, with our frontline employees deciding how best to spend it.
As to the reported legal challenge in Surrey, Virgin Care’s preference was to re-run the flawed process but the contract commissioners turned it into a damages only dispute. Contrary to media reports this money has not been pocketed by Virgin or myself but continues to be invested in frontline NHS services delivered by Virgin Care as it continues to drive improvements across the country.
With The Elders, a group of independent global leaders standing up for peace and human rights, we are working on bringing universal free healthcare to as many countries as possible. In our travels around the world The Elders cite the wonders of the NHS. The Virgin Group and I will play our part through Virgin Care in making sure the NHS continues as a free, well run service for decades to come.