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HCA told to sell-off London hospital sites, while BMI escapes

The UK’s biggest private healthcare provider, BMI, has been spared from having to sell off seven hospitals after the new competition watchdog heavily watered down plans to shake up the independent sector.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) dropped the provisional plans affecting BMI under its final ruling published today.

Instead it is ordered US-owned rival HCA to sell one or two of its sites in London – prompting the company to threaten legal action.

An initial ruling by the Competition Commission last year had found weak competition was pushing up prices for patients in the £5.5bn private healthcare market.

It said the dominance of the three biggest hospital groups, Spire, BMI and HCA, had caused “consumer detriment” of up to £193m a year.

The commission initially proposed ordering 20 sites to be sold. But this was later scaled back to nine, before the final ruling restricted the sell-off to HCA’s sites in the capital.

It leaves BMI, which owns 66 hospitals and treatment centres across the country, in the clear after the group had been facing the prospect of selling four sites in outer London and three others outside the capital.

Chief executive Stephen Collier said CMA had reached a “sensible, measured and fair conclusion”.

But HCA has been told it must dispose of both the London Bridge Hospital and the Princess Grace Hospital − or alternatively the larger Wellington Hospital, including its Platinum Medical Centre.

The firm issued a robust response to the decision, saying the ruling would punish healthcare innovation and that it “intends to vigorously challenge it in the courts”.

Mike Neeb, president and chief executive of HCA International, said: “The CMA’s main allegation appears to be that HCA is too successful, too efficient, too innovative. It wants to punish HCA for that success.

“This can only discourage future investment and innovation in healthcare, and potentially other industries.”

Mike Neeb

Mike Neeb

However, Roger Witcomb, chair of the CMA’s private healthcare inquiry group, said the sell-off would “significantly increase competition in central London”.

Health insurer Bupa said the ruling was a cautious step in the right direction, but questioned the decision not to order any hospital sell-offs outside the capital.

Dr Damien Marmion, managing director of Bupa health funding, said: “Self-pay and insured customers will be surprised that no action has been taken outside London where excess profit and consumer detriment has been identified.”

Readers' comments (4)

  • None of the hospitals belong to them. The people who sold them were not the owners. The British public are and the hospital should revert back to being NHS as soon as possible

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  • I'd be very interested to know how much this has cost the tax payer (us) so far? Also, how much it is likely to cost with the inevitable legal action?

    At the end of the day, it is a service that is offered at a price and if you want it and can afford it, you pay it. Whether that is via insurance or not, it is still a supply-demand issue. These are private companies making a profit out of those who can afford it. Even if the NHS were up to speed, there would still be a demand, although maybe not quite as high.

    Why not redirect the publics funds wasted on ensuring the needs of a few, especially as the focus is purely on London, and help support a public institution to survive and develop to become one that can meet the demands and provide a quality service free at the point of need.

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  • I love abbreviations! Having not heard of HCA International, I did wonder why a health care assistant would be selling off a hospital ;-)
    (There was a reason they taught us not to use anything except 'official' TLAs* when I trained back in the dark ages (20yrs ago))

    *3-letter acronyms

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  • agree with the above, it is a very misleading headline for those of us not in the know. I guess headlines are eye catchers to get people to read the article although they can also have the reverse effect!

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