Community Hospitals up for auction

BC Partners’ General Healthcare is believed to be among those bidding for the group.

Community Hospitals, the £200m quoted private hospital group, has put itself up for sale, the Sunday Times reports.

General Healthcare, Britain's largest private hospital owner which is owned by BC Partners, is seen as a strong candidate for the group. Westminster Health Care, a private care group backed by Goldman Sachs, and Nuffield, a charitable organisation, are also believed to be interested. The company’s financial adviser Granville has been asked to handle the sale, and bids are due in by the end of this week.

Last year, Bupa, the medical insurer, was blocked from acquiring Community Hospitals. Stephen Byers, trade and industry secretary, blocked the acquisition on the grounds it would lead to higher prices in markets for insurance and private medical services. He also forced Bupa to sell its 27 per cent stake in the company within six months.

Shares in Community have since slipped back to 550 pence from a peak of 650 pence before the Bupa offer. The newspaper reports that the successful bidder is unlikely to pay more than 600p. Healthcare is becoming increasingly attractive to the private sector largely due to the increase in the amount of work sub-contracted by the National Health Service. This follows the government initiatives to strengthen the ties between the public and private health sectors.

Community, based in Bedford and founded 20 years ago, now runs a network of 21 hospitals providing care ranging from blood tests to brain scans and cardiac surgery.

European private equity firm BC Partners bought General Healthcare, the UK's largest private hospital provider, from fellow VC house Cinven, for £1.275bn (E2.1bn) in September last year.