The Virgin Group has bought itself a place in the primary care market by pocketing the majority stake of healthcare giant Assura’s medical services business.

Following rumours reported by PharmaTimes UK News last month, the company, which is led by billionaire business wizard Richard Branson, has now snapped up 75.1% of Assura Medical Limited, one of the UK’s biggest owners of GP practices which runs no less than 30 GP Provider Organisation (GPCo) businesses.

According to Assura, its GPCos provide a range of “high quality primary and intermediate community-based NHS services”, including Darzi-style GP-led health centres, outpatient and diagnostics services, and day care surgery, servicing more than three million patients in England and thereby providing Virgin with a major channel into the sector.

Branson has set up a newly incorporated company - Virgin Healthcare - to take on Assura’s business, for which it has paid £4 million. However, proceeds of the sale will be reinvested by Assura into the new group as a loan, in return for 24.9% of the ordinary share capital of Virgin Healthcare.

Virgin has been after a hook into general practice for some time now. It was close to attaining its goal back in 2008, announcing plans to open a series of GP-led surgeries across the country, but was later forced into a temporary retreat reportedly because of difficult economic conditions.

“Healthcare is a sector that the Virgin Group has been extremely interested in entering for some time but we have always said that the partner and the timing had to be right – with Assura we believe we have found the perfect partner,” noted Branson.

'Passion for patients'
“The Assura Medical business is underpinned by a passion for patients, a strong focus for delivering quality and safe health outcomes and a commitment to work in partnership with those who deliver healthcare,” he said, and added that both companies will continue to develop the business, “working alongside our NHS partners, to bring excellent, high-quality services right to the heart of patients’ communities”.

Assura’s chief executive Richard Burrell will join the board of Virgin Healthcare alongside Patrick McCall and Gaurav Batra from the Virgin Group, and a total of 75 staff will transfer form Assura Medical, including Bart Johnson and Dr Vivienne McVey, who will lead the new management team, the firm said.