Sir Richard Branson is a hugely popular British entrepreneur and adventurer who has been able to keep the common touch and does not seem to be as ruthless as some other self-made billionaires.
For more than three decades Richard has also shown that he has a remarkably good nose for identifying important and/or lucrative new trends. Like all people, he has made the occasional bad call, but his overall success rate is astonishing.
So I was extremely interested to see that Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has launched a foray into the British National Health Service (NHS) primary healthcare market and they are trying to persuade family doctors to join them in establishing a network of branded clinics.
It is particularly interesting that British government ministers are welcoming Virgin Healthcare’s decision to open the first of six “one-stop-shop” health centers later this year. The plan is to offer services from homeopathy to psychotherapy alongside typical primary care services.
This project has been two years in the planning and the group has just started its first advertising campaign to generate interest among family doctors who could join its health centers.
The business model allows family physicians to retain their existing contracts but Virgin would manage funds the doctors receive for staff costs and rental. Virgin would then offer a range of additional NHS and private services to visiting patients, including dentistry, screening, a pharmacy “and a range of conventional and complementary therapies.”
The British government has identified the importance of providing more and better primary care services and has £250m a year earmarked for the new services and Virgin wants to be a provider.
What is different is that Virgin Healthcare is proposing to work with primary care physicians to help develop more integrated, accessible and personalized services for patients and that they are quite prepared to consider providing less conventional therapies for which there is patient demand and/or empirical evidence.
That last piece – including less orthodox therapies – will inevitably put the cat amongst the pigeons, but Richard Branson and his advisers have correctly identified that there are some good reasons for including some of these therapies, even if the research base is not yet as good as we would like.