Published: 00:00, 13 January 2016
| Updated: 15:29, 13 January 2016
Richard Branson’s Virgin Care is to take over Sheppey and Sittingbourne hospitals as part of a £126 million deal.
The shake-up - first reported by us in November - was announced today after a year of high-level talks.
Virgin will run Sittingbourne Memorial Hospital and Sheppey Community Hospital as well as Livingstone Hospital in Dartford and Gravesham Hospital in Gravesend.
Staff were notified by managers in a series of meetings on Wednesday morning. All the hospitals are currently operated by Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCH).
Virgin is expected to take over on April 1. The contract was awarded by NHS Swale Clinical Commissioner Group and NHS Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley Clinical Commissioning Group (DGS CCG).
The CCGs, led by local GPs, plan and pay for the bulk of the area’s health services.
Seven bids were considered and four made the shortlist.
The contract is worth just over £18 million a year for the next seven years across Swale and DGS with the option to extend by a further three years.
The other bidders included Dartford and Gravesham Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Darent Valley Hospital, and South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.
Virgin Care, part of Sir Richard Branson’s business empire, already holds nearly 330 NHS contracts.
In 2012 it signed a £500 million, five-year contract to run community health services in Surrey, including seven community hospitals and inherited 2,500 staff.
Last year it won a £64 million five-year contract to run community child health services in Wiltshire which are currently provided by five separate NHS providers. That contract will also start in April.
Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust is one of the biggest providers of NHS community healthcare in the country with sites in Kent, London and East Sussex.
It was created on April 1, 2011 with the merger of Eastern and Coastal Kent Community Services NHS Trust and West Kent Community Health. It employs 5,500 staff.
It won Foundation status on March 1 last year and was rated ‘good’ by the Care Quality Commission in September 2014.
The community hospitals, community nursing, intermediate care, community neuro rehabilitation, speech and language therapy, podiatry and continence services will all transfer to Virgin Care.
Some services are also provided by Medway Community Healthcare Physiotherapy, learning disability services, epilepsy, lymphoedema, children’s community services and maternity are not affected.
Minor injury units and out-of-hours GP services will continue to be provided by the existing providers.