A £126 million contract to run community hospitals covering Dartford, Gravesham, Swanley and Swale for the next seven years has been awarded to Virgin Care.
The provider is part of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin empire and the contract follows a long tendering process started in November 2014.
It focussed on bids to run the services at Gravesham Community Hospital in Bath Street and those at Livingstone Community Hospital at East Hill. Their buildings were not part of the tender, only the services provided within those buildings.
Losing out on the tender were current administrators Kent Community Health NHS Trust Foundation Trust which provides wide-ranging NHS care for people in the community, including in people's own homes; nursing homes; health clinics; community hospitals; minor injury units; a walk-in centre and in mobile units.
The new contract, which gives Virgin Care the opportunity to extend it by a further three years, was made by bosses of the governing clinical groups - NHS Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley, and NHS Swale.
The change to Virgin Care also includes Sittingbourne Memorial Hospital and Sheppey Hospital.
“After a rigorous procurement process, we are awarding Virgin Care the contract to provide adult community health services in there,” said Patricia Davies on behalf of the two bodies.
“We look forward to working with Virgin Care towards the delivery of high quality and sustainable community health services not just for today, but for years to come.”
A statement issued by the awarding groups said Virgin Care had proven experience of running high quality NHS community health services over the last ten years, providing free at the point of need NHS services to more than a million patients across England each year.
It said that affected staff will be able to transfer across to Virgin Care from April 1 this year.
Richard Comerford, regional director at Virgin Care, said: “We’re very excited to have the opportunity to deliver these services and we’re looking forward to working with the many dedicated and talented staff who will join us.”
The other competing bidders were Dartford and Gravesham Hospitals NHS Trust; Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust and South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.
Lesley Strong, Acting Chief Executive, Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Our bid received excellent or good scores in every area, but we are disappointed it has been awarded to another provider. We scored slightly higher than Virgin Care on quality, but not on price. We have one of the lowest running costs of any NHS community provider in the country and the cost of our bid was within the budget set by the CCGs.
“Our patients and dedicated staff continue to be our highest priority and during the next three months we will be working with Virgin Care to ensure a smooth transition.”