The “vast majority” of GPs with shares in local Virgin Care provider companies have agreed to resign their financial stakes to remove potential conflicts of interest.
In an interview with HSJ, Virgin Care chief executive Bart Johnson said the move would also enable the firm to ensure standards of care were upheld by taking control of all its local provider companies.
Virgin Care currently has 25 limited liability partnership “GP companies”, the first of which was set up in 2006 by Assura, which Virgin has since taken over. Each was governed jointly by Virgin Care and groups of GPs, with profits split 50:50. Some of the firms employed salaried GPs.
Typically the companies are contracted locally to provide local primary care and community services such as dermatology, physiotherapy, walk-in centres, and diagnostics.
Mr Johnson said the move, which will ensure that commissioner GPs have no interest in a local provider, was initiated around 18 months ago by Virgin Care rather than GPs.
He said having 25 boards and management teams was “unwieldy”, while central management would ensure a “consistency of excellent service around the country”. Variation in quality was not currently a problem, but “we want to make sure as we get bigger and bigger that we have a governance system and processes that mean we don’t end up with a problem”.
The Department of Health issued guidance last year detailing how clinical commissioning groups could buy services from GP-owned organisations.
However, Mr Johnson admitted that GPs remained anxious that there could still be a perceived conflict of interest if CCG members had a financial stake in a local provider.
Concerns over conflicts of interest among GP providers were initially raised more than a year ago, with Virgin’s GP companies named as a potential problem.
Although Virgin Care would now prefer not to have any GP shareholdings in their companies, three will remain co-owned, as GPs are happy with the existing arrangement.
Mr Johnson said he saw Virgin Care’s future being in providing services close to or in people’s homes, and “providing services better than what’s already there”.
He also said the company would be looking to win “[its] share” of large scale community contracts as the transforming community services tenders expired.
Ian MacDonald, former chair of the Assura Coventry GPCo, said: “Despite no conflict ever having arisen, we want to avoid any perception that a conflict exists by leaving the partnership prior to GPs taking control of commissioning in April 2013.”