The former head of a surgery’s patient participation group has questioned whether the operator is putting profit before patients after the death of his father from cancer.

Nicholas Challen, former head of Church Lane Surgery’s PPG, has blasted operators Virgin Care in an official complaint to NHS England.

Since Virgin took over the contract at the surgery in June 2016 Mr Challen says the service has gone from “crisis to crisis” and care is getting worse.

He said: “In my view Virgin are running the surgery as a standalone profit centre, and cutting corners to make the numbers work rather than a public service, fit for purpose.

"I do not blame the staff at Braintree level. They are under a lot of pressure, and not being supported adequately from their head office, which includes adequate training, staff retention and recruitment.”

Donald Challen was first visited by a doctor from the surgery on Saturday, October 14, when he was diagnosed with an infection and prescribed antibiotics.

Two days later after no signs of improvement, Mr Challen called the surgery and asked for a home visit as his 84-year-old mother Patricia was struggling to cope.

He says he told staff several times he thought my father was at the end of his life.

A doctor attended and an appointment with the district nurse was booked.

On Wednesday 18 the district nurse attended for what had been booked as a diabetes assessment.

In despair Mr Challen called the emergency services.

His father was diagnosed with terminal cancer at Broomfield Hospital on October 19 and passed away on October 28 with the family choosing palliative care.

Mr Challen said: “I was chair of the PPG for three years, stepping down in September.

"In that time I have seen the surgery lurch from crisis to crisis, and under Virgin’s stewardship, it is getting worse.

"The reputation of the surgery is extremely low and Virgin must be held accountable and resolve the crisis they have created.”

Virgin Care has defended its record at Braintree’s largest doctor’s surgery.

Asked by The Times whether the standard of care at Church Lane Surgery was good enough, a spokesman for Virgin Care said: “As an experienced provider of GP services for more than ten years, we have very strong policies and procedures in place in line with national best practice. 

“Since taking on the surgery a year ago we’ve been implementing a transformation plan which has significantly improved the practice, moved to new purpose-built premises and added additional clinics and appointments as well as increasing staffing - 81 per cent of patients rating the service this year say they would recommend it. 

“Recruitment of GPs is challenging across the country but our recruitment campaigns have allowed us to recruit a number of GPs for our Essex services since we took them on last year and we continue to work hard to appoint permanent GPs for the surgery as soon as possible.”

NHS England confirmed they are investigating Mr Challen’s complaint.