LONDON Jan 16 Two private healthcare groups may
be forced to sell nine hospitals, mainly in London, after an
investigation by Britain's Competition Commission found patients
were not getting value for money.
The Competition Commission said HCA International, owned by
the largest U.S. healthcare group HCA Holdings Inc,
needs to sell two hospitals in central London - London Bridge
and Princess Grace.
Rival BMI, Britain's largest operator with 66 hospitals,
could be forced to sell seven hospitals in Greater London, the
south-east and the north-west of England. BMI is partly owned by
South Africa's Netcare and private equity group Apax
The watchdog said last August that it could recommend the
sale of up to 20 hospitals because of a lack of competition in
local areas and barriers to entry which had pushed up prices for
patients with private medical insurance and those paying for
Commission chairman Roger Witcomb said requiring operators
to sell hospitals was a big step. "We have focused on those
areas where a sale will be effective in increasing
competition-where a single operator owns a cluster of hospitals
which face little rivalry," he said.
HCA International said the CC's provisional recommendations
were "plainly wrong", and it would fight the ruling.
"The CC's own report acknowledges there are nearly 50
competitors in Greater London, our ownership of these hospitals
encourages competition and drives a higher standard of care
among hospitals in the UK," said chief executive Mike Neeb.
"To forcibly divest hospitals from successful healthcare
organisations cannot be good for either patients or our
BMI said the regulator had underestimated the true cost of
providing private healthcare.
"BMI Healthcare and its hospitals do not exercise market
power or make excess profits at the expense of patients; the
Commission still fails to make any case to the contrary, fatally
undermining its case for divestments," said chief executive
The Commission will consult further on the measures before
it publishes its final report at the end of March.
The top five healthcare providers, which also include Spire,
owned by private equity firm Cinven, Ramsay Health Care UK and
Nuffield Health, accounted for about 77 percent of the market by
revenue in 2010, according to a 2011 report by the Office of
Fair Trading. Smaller providers include Abbey, Aspen Healthcare,
The London Clinic and The Horder Centre.
The state-run National Health Service is by far the leading
provider of treatment in Britain, where the market for privately
funded healthcare was worth 6.4 billion pounds ($10.46 billion)
in 2011, according to consultants Laing and Buisson.