When Max Pemberton wrote an article for the Telegraph entitled ‘Healthy competition in the NHS is a sick joke’ following the recent passing of the controversial Health and Social Care Bill by Parliament (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/features/9193015/Healthy-competition-in-the-NHS-is-a-sick-joke.html), he made his case study the award of a £500 million contract to Virgin Care to run community and prison healthcare services across Surrey. In doing so, he accused Sir Richard Branson’s company of being ‘one of the first of many vultures to start picking open the rich, tender flesh of the NHS’.
It appears that Branson was not amused at this characterisation of his company. An attempted high court injunction to prevent the article being published failed, but rumours soon began to circulate that he was preparing to sue both the Telegraph and the journalist involved.
This being the year 2012, however, such a course of action did not go unnoticed in the world of social media, and the wrath of Twitter soon crashed down around Branson. A flurry of tweets encouraged the original article to be linked and shared around the network, and after initial silence from Virgin’s PR bods, it was reported on Wednesday afternoon that the threat of legal action has ‘currently’ been withdrawn.
Whether this indicates that Branson has lowered his sword and bowed to increasingly negative PR over the issue, or has simply obtained the rumoured half-page rebuttal article in the Telegraph he was seeking in return for dropping the action, remains to be seen.
Those opposed to the Coalition government’s health reforms, meanwhile, worry that this incident demonstrates how dissenting voices over the Health and Social Care Bill will be silenced. Although this piece of legislation has finally got through Parliament, it will clearly remain a lightning rod for controversy for some time to come.