Private company Virgin to run north Kent community hospitals
A £126m contract to run four NHS community hospitals in north Kent has been awarded to a private company.
Virgin Care is to take over services at Sittingbourne Memorial, Sheppey and Gravesham hospitals and Livingstone Hospital in Dartford.
The NHS clinical commissioning group (CCG) said Virgin Care came top of four shortlisted bids.
Kent Community Health Foundation Trust (KCHFT), which currently runs part of the service, said it was disappointed.
Sir Richard Branson's company will take over community nursing, community hospital services, intermediate care, community neuro-rehabilitation, speech and language therapy, podiatry and continence services from 1 April.
Virgin already runs similar services in other areas of England, including in neighbouring Surrey.
The new contract is worth just over £18m per year for the next seven years, and could be extended by three years.
Staff employed by the existing providers, Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust and Medway Community Healthcare, will be able to transfer to Virgin.
"We have a strong track record of delivering NHS community health care services which are highly rated by patients," said Virgin Care regional director Richard Comerford.
"We're very excited to have the opportunity to deliver these services across Dartford, Gravesham, Swanley and Swale."
KCHFT lead governor Ken Rogers said he was unhappy the contract had been awarded to a private contractor.
"Foundation trusts have at their core public governors, elected by the local community, to look after their interests in building and monitoring these services which is not the case for private contractors," he said.
"This change is against all the values of public representation that I stand for."