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Virgin has been awarded almost £2bn worth of NHS contracts over the past five years as Richard Branson’s company has quietly become one of the UK’s leading healthcare providers, Guardian analysis has found.

In one year alone, the company’s health arm, Virgin Care, won deals potentially worth £1bn to provide services around England, making it the biggest winner among private companies bidding for NHS work over the period.

The company and its subsidiaries now hold at least 400 contracts across the public sector – ranging from healthcare in prisons to school immunisation programmes and dementia care for the elderly.

This aggressive expansion into the public sector means that around a third of the turnover for Virgin’s UK companies now appear to be from government contracts.

While some of Virgin’s UK subsidiaries have little of the parent company’s cash, others are wholly owned by Branson’s Virgin Group Holdings Limited, based in Road Town, Tortola.

Though there is nothing untoward about the arrangements, the growth of the company, the lack of transparency over the contracts is beginning to raise concerns among campaigners.

Last year, it won a cash settlement from several NHS trusts when it took court action over a children’s services contract in Surrey, with details of the £2m payout only revealed recently in their accounts.

Sara Gorton, the head of health at the trade union Unison, said: “The company has been so keen to get a foothold in healthcare, it’s even been prepared to go to court to win contracts, moves that have cost the NHS dearly.

“While the NHS remains dangerously short of funds, taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be wasted on these dangerous experiments in privatisation.”

One former surgery manager who spoke to the Guardian said Virgin appeared to be paid more for doing less in her area, although the company said “because the contracts are generally not directly comparable, we don’t believe it to be true”.

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