Private healthcare group Virgin Care has opened a sexual health clinic in a retail outlet - Boots in Milton Keynes - for the first time, to help provide care in the community as close to home as possible.

Explaining the move to PharmaTimes UK News, a spokesperson for company said the location was considered the most appropriate and convenient for patients and, if it proves successful, many more clinics could open in other retailer outlets around the country.

All of the sexual health clinic market is currently outsourced, either to community trusts, hospital trusts or private providers. Virgin Care currently holds a £13 million slice of the overall contract, providing sexual health services to over two million people across Surrey, Milton Keynes, Oldham and Teesside.

The company is also set to launch sexual health clinics in North and North East Linconshire in April, under a contract worth a further £1.5 million.

"Our aim with our sexual health services is to offer better access to free NHS sexual health services. By putting one of our clinics in a branch of Boots in Milton Keynes we have taken these services on to the high street and into an environment where services are easy to access yet provided in the strictest confidence,” the spokesman said.

The move is another illustration of NHS services being farmed out to private providers to help cope with rising demand and financial austerity. 

Among Virgin Care's other contracts, last year it was chosen as the preferred bidder for range of core NHS and social care services for children and young people by NHS Devon and Devon County Council, while it also signed a £500 million contract covering community health services in South West and North West Surrey, as well as some provided county-wide such as prison healthcare and sexual health services.

Indeed, increasing private provision of primary and secondary NHS services, particularly with the roll out of Clinical Commissioning Groups and alternatives to traditionally expensive hospital care, is carving out a market worth a potential £20 billion to the sector, according to a recent report by corporate finance advisors Catalyst.