NHS staff working in child health services in Wiltshire have been told that Sir Richard Branson is to be their new boss after health chiefs unilaterally privatised their entire department in a £64m deal.

All community child health services in Wiltshire will be privatised and will become part of Virgin Care’s growing empire in April next year.

Council and NHS bosses have defended the decision saying it was the best way to ensure a consistent service across the county.

But leaders representing the staff being transferred said they had real fears the move would mean a worse service for more money, which they said was what happened when taxes were paid for profits and shareholders.

Until now, all the services from Cricklade to Salisbury had been run by five different NHS organisations.

The services that are now part of the deal include children’s specialist community nursing, health visiting and speech and language therapy.

Wiltshire is the third county to do a deal with Virgin Care to take on massive NHS contracts with similar services already running in Devon and Surrey.

But Helen Eccles, the regional head of health for UNISON, said the trade union was fearful for the future of the services.

“UNISON is disappointed that Wiltshire Child Health Services for the next five years will no longer be delivered by the NHS. Instead the services will be delivered by Virgin,” she said.

“UNISON believes that the fundamental ethos of public services should be to deliver high quality care. This ethos often becomes diluted when the company delivering these services is motivated by profit.

“We know from our experience in supporting staff delivering public services that privatisation often ends up costing more and frequently damages services, leaving the public picking up the bill.

“We think it is right that our taxes should go directly to services, to the people who deliver them and the people who rely on them, rather than to profits and shareholders.”

Wiltshire Council’s health chief Maggie Rae said:“This new way of working means that children and their families will receive a high quality, joined up and consistent service shaped specifically around them.

“We have worked effectively as a partnership in developing this new service and we believe it will help Wiltshire families achieve the best possible outcomes.”

Deborah Elliott, the accountable officer for Wiltshire’s doctor-run Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “By moving from five providers to one, children and parents will have access to consistent and equitable levels of service and support regardless of where they live in the county.

“A single community child health service will help children and young people in Wiltshire receive the best possible start in life.

“For example, the same standards of care and easier access to services will be possible to all, through more joined-up working between health and social care professionals.”

“It was important to us that before we started looking at the contract for community child health services that we really understood how the children, their parents and their families feel about the services they receive,” she said.

“So, together with Wiltshire Council, NHS England and our partners around the county we held several workshops, developed an online survey and spoke with children, their families and carers. It’s with their help that we designed the principles that the new service will adhere to,” she added.

Virgin Care’s regional director Jayne Carroll said: “We are excited to be working alongside a great team to provide a focussed service shaped by people who use it.”