Care First set to appoint new chief

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The Independent Online
Care First, the nursing home operator fighting a pounds 241m cash bid from Bupa, looks close to appointing a chief executive to replace Chai Patel. However the troubled company, criticised by shareholders for its share price performance, is understood to have been privately reprimanded by the Takeover Panel for exaggerating its prospects. Sameena Ahmad reports.

According to industry sources, the company is considering appointing a relative unknown, Gerard Wainwright, as chief executive if the group remains independent. Mr Wainwright was formerly managing director of Nesbitt Evans, the bath lifters to mobility equipment medical products company which was bought by Huntleigh Technology in the early 1990s.

Mr Wainwright, who left the company a couple of years after the merger, is advising Care First's board on its defence against Bupa, the healthcare insurance giant.

Care First had also considered Chet Bradeen, managing director at the Exceler nursing home group, for the position of chief executive, but is no longer proceeding.

Sources close to Care First have also revealed that Keith Bradshaw, its founder and chairman, and the company's board have been given a private warning by the Takeover Panel for talking up the company's prospects as part of its bid defence.

The Takeover Panel, which yesterday said it would not comment on any private communication with parties in a bid situation, had apparently objected to the board's use of the word "dramatic" in forecasting a change in fortune in the company's prospects.

Bupa, which is offering 150p cash per share, 8p lower than Care First's closing share price yesterday, is still seeking a recommendation from Care First's board.

It is understood that the healthcare insurer would be prepared to raise its offer slightly in return for a recommendation.

Mr Patel, who walked out in August after a clash with Mr Bradshaw, appears close to arranging a cash and shares financing to trump Bupa's bid.

Mr Patel's counter bid, and any further bids, including the mooted interest from Warburg Pincus, must be on the table before 3 and 12 December, when two key shareholders, Abbey Life Assurance and Invesco Asset Management, have committed to sell their shares to Bupa.

Mr Patel's bid, likely to be mainly cash with a stub equity element, is being backed by BC Partners, the venture capital group bought out of Baring Capital and advised by HSBC.