COMMUNITY child healthcare in Wiltshire is privatised from today, as Virgin Care launches its new service.

The deal worth almost £13million sees Virgin Care take over the contract for services including health visiting, children’s community nursing, and speech and language therapy.

Most of the services were previously provided directly by the NHS, including Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust.

Virgin Care was awarded a five-year, £12.8million contract last year.

The council has promised no services would be cut as a result of the changes and said there were no plans to make any staff redundant.

And it said any savings would be invested back into the services.

Virgin Care said its new service would "improve communications ... to enhance the experience for children, young people and families by responding directly to the needs of Wiltshire’s community."

Salisbury GP Dr Helena McKeown has previously raised concerns about the gradual privatisation of the NHS.

She said: "It's a bit like removing blocks from a Jenga tower.

"We don't know at what point the whole NHS is going to fall down."

Dr McKeown said privatising community child health services in particular was not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the new provider communicated with parents and schools effectively.

Cllr Ricky Rogers said: "The public have nothing to gain by this privatisation. If we look at the history over the the last 20 years, every time we have had privatisation of any public service it has resulted in a poorer service for the public."

The decision has been taken jointly by the GP-led group that controls the county's health budget (Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group), Wiltshire Council and NHS England.

Jayne Carroll, Virgin Care’s regional director, says: “Since we were named preferred bidder we’ve been working alongside the existing providers and with the very talented colleagues to ensure that the service was ready to go on day one with as few changes to the services families receive as possible.

“Over the coming months we’ll continue that work to make sure the transition to the Virgin Care-provided service is as smooth as possible for children and young people.

“Things won’t change overnight but we’re committed to continuing to listen to feedback from children, young people and families in order to build a truly Wiltshire-focused service which serves the needs of the people who use it.”

In a joint statement, Wiltshire Council, Wiltshire CCG and NHS Wiltshire said: "Bringing together community child health services from across the county under one provider was a key priority for us.

"We want to ensure that every child in Wiltshire has the same access to services regardless of where they live in the county.

“Virgin Care’s plans to utilise digital technology to enhance communication will allow health care practitioners more time with children and their parents or carers. We are confident that Virgin Care can deliver services to our children that reflect their needs, are closer to home and are of the highest standard.”

All staff at the previous providers have transferred to Virgin Care and will keep their terms and conditions, pay and pension.

Virgin said the majority of service users would see no change to staff.