HCA to fight competition authority over hospital sale


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The Independent Online

HCA International is set to launch a £2m, year-long legal appeal against the competition watchdog’s decision to force the private healthcare group to sell at least one of its six hospitals in London.

After an exhaustive two-year inquiry led by Roger Witcomb, regulators performed a dramatic last-minute retreat from demanding a similar sell-off programme by the market leader, BMI.

Yesterday’s report is the first under the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which came into force on Tuesday.

The UK arm of HCA, a US healthcare empire with annual revenues of £20bn, is “furious” that it is the only major hospital owner to have been forced into divestitures.

Mr Witcomb was one of the two members of the five-person panel who vetoed an earlier, preliminary ruling forcing BMI to sell seven centres.

Mr Witcomb told The Independent that it was “impossible to get a picture” of certain market dynamics, making forced sell-offs unfair on BMI – but he conceded that the decision was “finely balanced”.

HCA’s commercial director, Keith Biddlestone, said that focusing on HCA “makes us more furious – but in some ways it strengthens our appeal”.

The CMA has demanded that HCA makes a choice between selling either the London Bridge and Princess Grace hospitals or the 266-bed Wellington Hospital Platinum Medical Centre, all of which are in the capital. HCA was considered to have a dominant grip on the London market.

The healthcare insurer Bupa also found itself at the centre of many of the fiercest criticisms from customers and consultants during the inquiry. Insurers were not included within the inquiry’s remit, though Mr Witcomb was critical of evidence which suggested that policies had been changed without patients’ consent.

Mr Biddlestone said: “From the beginning we’ve said to the inquiry that they should be looking the other way – health insurers are the ones that the public complain about.”

Alex Perry, director of health and benefits at Bupa, said it “quite clearly won’t change policies without notice”.