COMMERCIAL: A primary care trust’s decision to award a £132m contract for children’s services to Virgin Care is to be challenged in court next week.

The NHS Devon, Plymouth and Torbay PCT cluster and Devon County Council named Virgin Care as the preferred provider for services including sexual health, behavioural intervention and learning disabilities in July this year.

Lawyers acting for a mother whose children use the services are seeking a judicial review on the grounds the commissioners have failed to adequately assess the impact of the move into the private sector on service users.

HSJ understands the case will focus particularly on those service users who as disabled children or children with learning disabilities enjoy special protection under the Equality Act 2010.

The PCT cluster claims the transfer of services to Virgin will have no impact as it constitutes merely a change of management.

However, lawyers at Deighton Pierce Glynn, the practice acting for the mother, will argue that all management changes inevitably have an impact

Partner Adam Hundt said: “These are services for some of the most vulnerable groups in society and they are going to a company with no established track record in this area.

“Extra care needs to be taken to assess the impact of this move, particularly when you are introducing the profit motive. It is not good enough to say there will be no impact.”

Virgin will also be responsible for providing services for children with eating disorders and substance misuse issues, as well as providing a low security mental health unit social services and psychotherapy.

Rebecca Harriott, director of commissioning development for the cluster, said: “We firmly believe that there is no case to answer and will strongly defend the action.

“Both authorities are continuing to progress the current process to award a final contract and transfer staff by 31 March 2013.

“The decision to work with Virgin follows an exhaustive tendering process that has involved a large number of parents and carers, professionals and young people themselves as well as affected staff.”

The mother has been granted anonymity to protect the identity of her children. The case is scheduled to be heard in Swansea on Monday and Tuesday next week.

A spokesman for Virgin Care said: “We have a very strong track record of providing NHS care to vulnerable groups including children for many years now, strengthened with extensive expertise through our contract to provide community services in Surrey.”

Virgin Care took over the running of community services, including services for children with complex and specialist needs, around six months ago and has been providing GP, out of hours care, walk-in and minor injury services for a number of years.