Private medical group Bupa hailed an “encouraging” improvement in its UK arm after action to slash costs and lower medical fees helped more than double half-year profits.
The organisation posted a leap in UK underlying profits to £59.2m in the six months to June 30 from £26.4m a year earlier, reversing a recent trend for falling profits in its domestic business, which saw earnings slump 22% in 2012.
Bupa continued to see customer numbers fall, down 3% to 2.8 million in the UK, while it also failed to grow revenues as sales remained flat at £1.3bn.
But it said efforts to tackle the rising cost of healthcare was starting to pay off as it negotiated lower fees with hospitals and doctors and introduced telephone-based support for patients to discuss treatment options including less invasive approaches, which can be cheaper than surgery.
Bupa said it was able to reduce fees for certain treatments and operations thanks to recent medical innovations, for example reducing consultant fees for cataract surgery from £741 to £289.
It was paying a fee of over £2,000 an hour – more than for complex brain or heart surgery – for cataract surgery, which it said was now one of the most routine operations in the country and takes 15 to 20 minutes.
Profits were also boosted after the group slashed costs and cut jobs as part of a restructure at the end of last year, combining UK administration teams, such as procurement and IT.
It said trading remained tough in its care home business, Bupa Care Services, which saw occupancy fall from 86.8% to 85.3% and as it faced higher energy and wage costs, combined with below-inflation fees received from under-pressure local authorities.
Bupa, which makes more than 70% of its revenues overseas, said underlying profits across the wider business edged 1% higher to £258.9m in the half-year.
On a bottom line basis, Bupa took a profits hit as profits fell 15% to £218m.