Morland Sanders writes about making Getting Rich on the NHS for Dispatches.
Most patients on the Kings Heath estate in Northampton haven't got the time to read the 460-page Health and Social Care Act but they have already had a taste of the potential impact it may have on the NHS in their neighbourhood.
The controversial and complex piece of legislation, drawn up by former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, encourages competition and the increased involvement of private companies in the health service. It's an issue the Kings Heath patients are already familiar with as their medical centre was taken over by a private firm in 2010.
The Kings Heath health provider is a household name but one more readily associated with the glitz and glamour of pioneering pop music, trans-continental jets and edge-of-atmosphere space travel. However, for the last two years Sir Richard Branson's Virgin has been involved in the slightly less glamorous world of dispensing flu vaccines and diagnosing piles.
I've travelled across England meeting some of those patients left asking the question: 'Does Virgin Care?' One Thursday evening I joined a residents meeting in the local community centre. Until two years ago, at the top of the agenda was bin collection or the annual fundraiser. Now the conversation is about a claimed lack of doctors at their local Virgin-run clinic.
'Virgin, they run airlines and everything else but they cant run a medical centre', said one of the residents. Their main claims are that when Virgin took over from the NHS seeing a doctor became a challenge, the clinic became far too reliant on locum GPs and the company was not keeping its commitment to provide extended hours access to doctors.
In a statement Virgin told Dispatches: 'We have made every effort to meet the commitments set out in the press release on our website but there were staffing issues at the practices outside of our control. GPs are available at alternative sites for late opening'.
Virgin promises to provide 'outstanding service', but Dispatches found concerns were not confined to just one medical centre. This was evident in Teesside, where the company provides sexual health tests. The service repeatedly missed targets on the numbers of people screened for Chlamydia. A memo revealed staff were asked to take home testing kits to use on friends and family to help make the numbers up.
We showed thememo to health academic Professor Sir Andy Haines, who told us: 'That's quite shocking. Screening your family and friends is not the same as screening the population in general and so it seems to me that this is a worrying development.'
In a statement Virgin told Dispatches: 'The memo was sent out shortly after we took over the running of the programme and, as soon as it was brought to our attention the practice stopped. Virgin Care is a leading provider of high quality and safe NHS services. Virgin Care has now treated more than 2.5 million patients to high levels of satisfaction, improved the NHS services it delivers and saved millions of pounds for the NHS'.