Care Giant Races To Avert £500m Sale Collapse
The parent company of HC-One, one of Britain's biggest nursing home operators, will hold crunch talks this week aimed at preventing the collapse of a £500m sale of the business.
Sky News has learnt that NHP is expected to meet with representatives from Credit Suisse, the Swiss banking giant, which is taking legal action to stall the auction in an attempt to secure repayments to bondholders.
HC-One, which owns and operates approximately 220 sites previously run by the now-defunct Southern Cross group, had been on the verge of agreeing a sale to Formation Capital, a US-based healthcare investor.
Credit Suisse has warned that it will pursue further legal avenues to derail the sale without a string of assurances from the company and its partners by August 15.
The legal tussle, which the Swiss bank believes is necessary to protect its financial interests, has thrown the future ownership of the UK's third-biggest care home operator into fresh doubt.
HC-One, whose parent company is carrying more than £1.3bn of debt, has about 10,000 residents across its estate and employs roughly 14,000 staff.
Formation, which declined to comment, is said to have told the selling shareholders that its offer will lapse shortly without a resolution of the impasse, although it is unclear whether it will abandon its interest altogether after that point.
It is reported to have pledged to invest tens of millions of pounds to fund new homes and modernise existing ones.
Anchorage Capital, a Wall Street hedge fund which is another HC-One creditor, is also trying to delay the sale.
Analysts speculated that regulators could seek to intervene if the situation deteriorated to the extent that stakeholder confidence in HC-One was undermined.
In a statement issued to Sky News on Monday, NHP said it had halted the sale process because of the dispute and is "engaging with Credit Suisse and other stakeholders with a view to resolving the issue and completing the sale of the group as soon as practicable".
An insider said the row would not have an impact on patient care and pointed to more than £80m invested in HC-One since November 2011.
"The sale process represents the next phase of ensuring HC-One remains a stable, debt-free and fully funded organisation, committed to providing the kindest possible care," the statement said.
"We are deeply disappointed that Credit Suisse has taken this action at this late stage."
The row could trigger a renewed debate about the extent of private sector involvement in crucial healthcare services after more than a decade of debt-fuelled takeovers of care home and hospital operators.
Southern Cross's collapse in 2011 under a toxic combination of mounting debts and rising rents sparked recriminations between ministers, landlords and care home operators.
The parent of HC-One, which is chaired by Chai Patel, the healthcare tycoon behind The Priory rehab clinics, also said that without a resolution of the dispute, it would consider selling the business through an alternative process.
This would involve selling the underlying assets themselves - the 221 care homes - rather than the shares in the companies which own them.
In response, Credit Suisse said it supported the work undertaken by Mr Patel to stabilise the business, adding in a statement: "Any contractual disputes between CS and other transaction parties relate to the holding company of HC-One and will have no bearing on the day-to-day operations of HC-One itself."
Dr Patel and other directors are reported to be in line for a £5m bonus if the company is sold.
Deutsche Bank, which was appointed by Capita, the special servicer, to run the auction, could not be reached for comment.