Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) has settled a legal dispute with Richard Branson’s private healthcare group Virgin Care for an undisclosed amount. 

Branson’s company sued the NHS last year after it lost out on an £82m contract to provide children’s health services across Surrey, citing concerns over “serious flaws” in the way the contract was awarded

The UK Labour Party said it was “scandalous” that the NHS had to defend a legal battle with the company, which is part of Richard Branson’s business empire. The party has also called on the Department of Health to disclose details of the settlement.

As anger mounts in the UK, a petition has now been launched against billionaire Branson demanding that he returns the money to the  cash starved NHS and that he make a personal commitment that Virgin Care will never again sue the health service after losing out on a contract.

The petition, which at the time of writing has garnered over 70,000 signatures, reads: “When the NHS is under severe financial pressure, it cannot afford to lose this money. Richard Branson, however, with an estimated personal wealth of over £3.5 billion, can manage perfectly comfortably without it.”

RT reports: Virgin Care sued the NHS after failing to win an £82 million contract to provide children’s health services in Surrey. Instead, the contract was awarded to Surrey Healthy Children and Families Services, a consortium.

Branson’s company then took NHS England and Surrey County Council to court, claiming it was “concerned that there may have been serious flaws in the procurement process.” Virgin Care won the case, and the amount it was awarded was supposed to have been confidential.

However, NHS magazine the Health Services Journal (HSJ) revealed the settlement had left them with financial liabilities of £328,000. NHS Surrey Downs Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) initially disclosed the figure in its October finance papers, a reference subsequently removed. It said the level of detail “should not have been included in the report.”

Left-wing media outlet Evolve Politics wrote that the fact that Branson was prepared to take the money from a “desperately cash-starved NHS shows he’s not really the man-of-the-people he would like us to believe he is. He’s just another grasping capitalist ready to make money in any way he can, without a concern in the world for the consequences.”

It added: “But that’s exactly what we should expect in the Tories’ drive to fully privatize the NHS. Private providers are going to get the nark and sue if they don’t get their way. Virgin Care will only be the start of it.”

The UK Labour Party has said it is “scandalous” that the NHS had to defend a legal battle with the company. Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said, according to the Independent: “It’s scandalous that NHS money is being wasted on fighting off legal bids from private companies … That is money that could be used for NHS patients who are waiting longer than ever for routine services.”

According to the NHS Support Federation, Virgin Care has been awarded NHS contracts worth more than £2 billion since entering the healthcare market in 2010. Just this week it emerged that Lancashire County Council is awarding the company a £104 million contract for child health services.