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UnitedHealth quits primary care and sells off surgeries to The Practice

By Gareth Iacobucci

US healthcare giant UnitedHealth has sold off its network of GP surgeries and pulled out of the UK primary care market in order to concentrate on offering GP commissioning support.

The deal will transfer ownership of UnitedHealth's GP provider company and all six of its GP practices to The Practice Plc - which already employs 220 GPs at 50 GP practices - with immediate effect.

UnitedHealth now plans to refocus its UK business to concentrate solely on commissioning support, as it seeks to exploit the opportunities presented by the Government's NHS reforms.

The move signals an end to UnitedHealth's controversial tenure as a provider of GP services in the UK, with their take-over of practices in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Camden in north London attracting vehement opposition from anti-privatisation campaigners.

The company said it had made ‘real improvements' to the six surgeries since taking them over with increased patient lists and improved QOF results, but said it would no longer be competing to provide primary care services in the future.

Instead, it plans to expand its commissioning support in areas such as data analytics, demand management and medicines management. It is already working with a number of PCTs and GP consortia, including pathfinders in Hounslow who recently signed a deal with the firm to run a major crackdown on GP referrals.

The company said the move would close the door to any perceived conflicts of interest between the two sides of its business, and said it believed it could play a key role in helping the NHS make £20bn in efficiency savings.

Katherine Ward, chief executive of UnitedHealth UK, said the move should not be seen as an indication that the company had gone cold on the UK market.

Ms Ward said: 'We've always said that we want to be a long-term partner of the NHS. That hasn't changed. But we've taken the decision to focus our efforts on providing commissioning support services that can help the NHS meet the £20bn QIPP challenge and drive improvements in care through effective commissioning.'

She added: ‘The Practice is an established provider of primary care services with a strong track record. We're already discussing with them how we might be able to work together in the future as a commissioning partner across these surgeries and others that they run.'

Peter Watts, chief executive of The Practice, said: ‘This puts us in an excellent position to build on the current success and offer a wider range of options to patients. Patient satisfaction at all our sites is consistently high and registrations continue to increase.'

UnitedHealth quits primary care and sells off surgeries to The Practice