• Virgin teams up with North East Essex NHS providers to land 10-year deal
  • Deal follows CCG controversially ditching previous contract with social enterprise
  • CCG pledges “smooth transition” amid concerns for prospects of existing staff

An alliance comprising private firm Virgin and local NHS providers has bagged a £440m contract for community services currently run by a social enterprise.

The newly established “North East Essex Integrated Community Services” alliance comprises East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust, GP Primary Choice, Essex Partnership University FT and Virgin.

NICS will be responsible for providing services such as community nursing and intermediate care, stroke rehabilitation and community beds across North East Essex. The services will be transferred from the social enterprise to NICS in July.

North East Essex CCG chief executive Ed Garratt pledged a “smooth transition” for the services and staff.

The promise follows ACE chief executive Frank Sims and chair David Harrison writing in a letter sent to staff that the decision to axe the contract had come as “a shock” and was “bitterly disappointing”.

The letter said: “Despite the CCG’s Care Closer to Home Review last year demonstrating that ACE’S services were highly valued by service users, and that ACE continued to provide very high levels of contractual performance, the CCG has decided that, to bring about more integration of services, they need to create a new contract.

“It is ACE’s strong view that we could have worked as partners in the system, varying the existing contract as needed.”

The ACE contract was signed in July 2015 and was worth £240m over seven years. The organisation employed around 600 staff and provides community services across Essex and part of Suffolk, including four GP practices.

But the North East Essex CCG contract comprised around 85 per cent of its £55m income for the 2018-19 financial year and Mr Sims warned it would “hit our business extremely hard at a time when the local economy is likely to face a major downturn”.

The CCG said, however, that the decision had “followed dialogue, a joint bid received from the alliance partners and subsequent detailed evaluation”.

Mr Garratt added: “One of the important areas from public feedback was the need for our services to be more joined up.

“The approach that the alliance will take is in line with our broader strategy of integrated care which seeks to reduce duplication by bringing together health and care professionals in locally based community teams and form closer service links with our magnificent voluntary sector…

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank ACE who have been providing services across Colchester and Tendring through the previous contract. We will work with them on a smooth transition. We are looking forward to working with the alliance to ensure these services are up and running by July 2021.”

In addition to the four main providers, there are a number of “associates”, including local authorities and voluntary groups, “who will be partly responsible for ensuring the services link effectively with the communities they serve”.