'Is there no limit to what this Government will privatise?': UK plasma supplier sold to US private equity firm Bain Capital

Sell-off puts blood supply at risk, warns Lord Owen

The Government was tonight accused of gambling with the UK’s blood supply by selling the state-owned NHS plasma supplier to a US private equity firm.

The Department of Health overlooked several healthcare or pharmaceutical firms and at least one blood plasma specialist before choosing to sell an 80 per cent stake in Plasma Resources UK to Bain Capital, the company co-founded by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in a £230m deal. The Government will retain a 20 per stake and a share of potential future profits.

PRUK has annual sales of around £110m and consists of two companies: it employs 200 people at Bio Products Laboratory (BPL) in Elstree, Hertfordshire, and more than 1,000 at DCI Biologicals Inc in the US. DCI collects plasma from American donors and sends it to BPL where it is separated into blood proteins, clotting factors and albumin for supply to NHS hospitals in the treatment of immune deficiencies, neurological diseases, and haemophilia.

British jobs are being safeguarded in the deal and Bain, which has invested in dozens of private and state-owned health companies worldwide, is prepared to spend £50m in capital investment on the Elstree laboratories.

However, critics of the deal warned the Government that Bain Capital was the wrong company to own the NHS plasma supply line.

Lord Owen, the former Health Minister, wrote to David Cameron earlier this year asking the Prime Minister to intervene and halt the sale. “In 1975, against some resistance from those guarding the finances of the DHSS budget, I decided as Minister of Health to invest in self-sufficiency in the UK for blood and blood products,” he wrote. “I now believe this country is on the point of making exactly the same mistake again. The world plasma supply line has been in the past contaminated and I fear it will almost certainly continue to be contaminated.”

After hearing of the sale Lord Owen told The Independent: “It’s hard to conceive of a worse outcome for a sale of this particularly sensitive national health asset than a private equity company with none of the safeguards in terms of governance of a publicly quoted company and being answerable to shareholders.

“Private equity has a useful function, as I saw in years past on the advisory board of Terra Firma, but Bain Capital should not have been chosen for this sale. Is there no limit to what and how this coalition government will privatise?”

Blood from UK donors, typically collected in vans and centres by NHS Blood and Transplant, is not supplied to PRUK, a separate organisation. Plasma donors at DCI centres in the US receive cash for each donation, typically around $25 for the first visit and $20 for any subsequent visit. People can donate up to twice a week.

Due to safety concerns following the emergence of ‘mad cow disease’, or vCJD, NHS hospitals only use plasma from around 20 per cent of blood collected from donors in the UK with the remainder used for diagnostic and research purposes. As the UK was unable to secure a long-term ‘safe’ blood supply for the NHS following the vCJD outbreak, the Government spent £50m in 2002 on the US firm that provided all of BPL’s plasma.   

The majority of NHS hospital plasma supplies come from PRUK, which sources all its plasma from low contamination risk groups in the United States across DCI’s network of 32 donor centres.

Lucy Reynolds from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine wrote  an academic paper earlier this year strongly arguing against the sale of PRUK.

She said the Coailtion deal undervalued the company adding: "Plasma supplies have a long record of being operated on a not for profit basis, using voluntary donors where all the necessary checks take place. The difference with a commercial firm is that they will want to have as many donors as possible and be looking to secure large profits first and foremost.

"This amounts to the government abandoning UK blood products users to the tender mercies of the cheapest supplier."

The PRUK deal is the latest move from Bain Capital into the expanding privatised UK health market. The Independent reported last month that the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), co-owned by the assets management firm, already caters for around half of all private patients in London and runs three joint NHS ventures, renting building space from public hospitals for exclusively private treatment. HCA is also a large buyer of plasma-derived products.

Devin O’Reilly, managing director of Bain Capital in London, said: “We have completed over 50 healthcare investments in companies such as HCA and we will ensure that all of this experience and expertise is applied to building PRUK into a true global leader.”

Health Minister Dan Poulter said: “This deal will ensure that patients will have access to high quality plasma products for years to come and it is  good news that Bain are investing in medicine and the life science industry in the UK.”

Everything must go? Put up for sale

Royal Mail

A fresh attempt to privatise the Royal Mail was announced earlier this month with the Government pinning hopes on offering 10 per cent shares to postal workers to dilute opposition to the scheme. It was the privatisation Margaret Thatcher balked at, saying she was “not prepared to have the Queen’s head privatised”.

Forensic Science Service

The closure of the Forensic Science Service in March 2012 means courts are now dependent on private companies and independent police laboratories for forensics analysis. The FSS was losing £2m monthly.

Student loans

Having ensured students pay much more for higher education by jacking up tuition fees, the government plans to sell off the student loan book, potentially raising the cap on the rate of interest as a lure for investors.

School playing fields

In the past three years the Education Secretary Michael Gove has approved the sale of more than 50 playing fields. On average 17 are sold annually, a fall from the last Labour government’s average of 28.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before