Apax calls up nursing sale

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The buyout firm Apax Partners has kicked off an auction for Healthcare at Home, a provider of in-home medical care, that could fetch up to £125m, according to industry sources.

Apax is understood to have hired the investment bank UBS to sell the business amid a flurry of deals in the healthcare sector. Healthcare at Home is one of the oldest companies in its portfolio, and if it does sell, it is set for an enormous return. Apax invested a mere £800,000 to start the company in 1995, and in total it has invested just £1.3m.

"Whatever the outcome, Apax is going to do extremely well," said an industry source.

Apax, which has already taken some money out of the business through a debt refinancing last year, declined to comment.

The private equity industry has been aggressively buying into healthcare companies, especially nursing home and specialist care providers. The Government has shifted funds towards smaller, community-based homes for the elderly and learning disabled, away from large long-stay hospitals.

Domiciliary care, in which healthcare professionals provide a range of services from routine help to acute therapy in patients' homes, is also a government priority. Interest in Healthcare at Home, which employs a team of nurses based in 15 regional centres around the country, is expected to be high.

The sector's biggest and longest-running deal, meanwhile, looks like it may at last be approaching its endgame. Dresdner Kleinwort is running the £1.4bn auction of Four Seasons Health Care, the UK's number-two nursing home provider, which operates 440 homes with 18,000 beds. Dresdner Kleinwort is said to be in advanced discussions that could result in a deal within the next few weeks.

Four Seasons, owned by Dresdner Kleinwort's sister company, Allianz Capital Partners, has been up for sale for eight months. Terra Firma, the investment company controlled by Guy Hands, is seen as the frontrunner.