Bupa sale lifts health group

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The Independent Online
The AIM-listed shares of Independent British Healthcare jumped 8p to 82.5p yesterday on takeover hopes after Bupa, the private health care group, was forced to agree to disgorge a 21 per cent stake acquired as a result of the pounds 77m takeover of Goldsborough Healthcare.

Upholding the findings of an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading, Nigel Griffiths, competition and consumer affairs minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, said the merger of the two companies raised concerns over competition in the market for private hospital beds.

The Goldsborough stake gave the healthcare group a "material influence" over IBH, but such concerns "might be addressed by an undertaking from Bupa to divest, and not in future to re-acquire, any interest in IBH," the minister added. Failing that, the bid would be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Bupa is the third-largest provider of private hospitals in the UK, operating 29, to which Goldsborough will add six of its own, with IBH operating a further 11. Peter Jacobs, chief executive of Bupa, said after meeting the OFT yesterday that it had agreed to sell the IBH stake, probably over the next three to six months, and would invite offers. "We haven't agreed the wording of the undertakings, but we are confident we will agree something with the OFT fairly quickly."