THE running of physiotherapy services at the Conquest Hospital has been taken over by a private company.
Virgin Care is now responsible for operating outpatient services, as of Monday, for an initial period of three years.
In June the Observer reported how there were fears the move would lead to existing services being downgraded.
But bosses at NHS Sussex say patients will see many benefits with the new community-based musculoskeletal service.
Around 14,000 patients a year are expected to use it, which will provide assessment and treatment for people with muscle and joint problems in the community and closer to their homes.
An NHS Sussex spokesman said other benefits are expected to include improved waiting times, more convenient opening hours and earlier access to diagnostic procedures.
Initially Virgin Care will deliver the service from three locations, namely Station Plaza Health Centre next to Hastings station, the Rye Memorial Care Centre and Battle Health Centre.
Additional locations in GP surgeries in Bexhill, Hastings and the surrounding area may be included in the future, depending on patient referral patterns.
Services will continue to be funded by the NHS and are free of charge for patients.
NHS Sussex said all staff employed within the original service have transferred to Virgin Care with their existing employment terms and conditions intact.
Amanda Fadero, chief executive of NHS Sussex, said: “We want patients in Hastings and Rother to have swift access to musculoskeletal tests and treatments closer to home. This remains an NHS service which is free to patients.”
Bart Johnson, chief executive of Virgin Care, said: “We are delighted to welcome our first patients to a service which we believe will offer patients faster access to assessment and treatment for muscle and joint problems and in locations that are closer to people’s homes.
He added: “We have a strong track record of providing a wide range of NHS care across the country. Since 2006 we have treated more than two-and-a-half million patients offering improved accessibility, convenience, satisfaction and, most importantly, our services have delivered improved health outcomes – all at a better rate for the taxpayer.”