COMMERCIAL: Virgin Care has been named preferred bidder for a children’s services contract worth £44m a year, it has been announced.

NHS Devon and Devon County Council put the services out to tender after the transforming community services programme, requiring primary care trusts to divest their provider arm, meant their integrated arrangement for the services could not continue.

Virgin was selected ahead of two consortiums involving NHS mental health trusts: Devon Partnership Trust, Barnado’s, Young Devon and Interserve; and Serco and Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust.

In a press release announcing the move, the council and the PCT said they believed appointing a “single accountable organisation” provided the “best opportunity to maintain and strengthen the integration of the services”.

Rebecca Harriott, director of commissioning development at NHS Devon, said: “Bringing together community-based health and social care staff has brought many benefits for children, young people, parents and carers.

“Keeping these services together and developing them further means finding the right provider with the right vision and commitment.

“Today’s announcement is just one step towards this… Our aim throughout the process has been to secure the best possible service and improve health outcomes for younger people while continuing to strengthen integrated community-based health and social care.”

The contract includes provision of services for children with physical, sensory and learning disabilities; public health nursing services such as health visiting and school nursing; and mental health and wellbeing services.

However, child protection will remain the responsibility of specialist social workers at the council.

About 1,100 staff are expected to transfer as part of the contract.

A final decision regarding who the contract will be awarded to is expected in the autumn.

A spokesman for Virgin Care said: “A wide range of health, education and social care professionals as well as children and young people who understand and use these services have been involved in coming to this decision. We look forward to working in partnership with NHS Devon, Devon County Council and other local partners to ensure that children, young people and their families in Devon continue to be supported to make decisions about their own lives.”