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Competition watchdog clears £1.2bn health tie-up

The competition watchdog has cleared a proposed £1.2 billion tie-up between two data management and software companies.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said that it would allow UnitedHealth to take over Emis after finding no competition concerns.

The deal was announced in June 2022 and would combine UnitedHealth’s subsidiary Optum with Emis in the UK.

In March the regulator had warned that the deal could end up pushing up costs for the NHS by reducing competition over two types of software.

It launched a more in-depth probe, which has now concluded that this risk does not meet the higher legal standard which would be necessary should the CMA wish to block the deal.

“Following a thorough investigation, the CMA has today confirmed that the transaction does not raise competition concerns when considered against the higher legal standard that applies in Phase 2 investigations, clearing the deal to proceed,” the watchdog said.

Optum supplies software that GPs use when prescribing medicines and data analytics and advisory services to the NHS.

The CMA said: “Although the merging businesses do not supply competing services, the CMA was initially concerned that the deal would allow Optum to limit its competitors’ access to the data held within Emis’s patient record system or to degrade the digital connections to this system, which rivals rely on to provide integrated software.”

But the NHS’s role as an overseer could in part prevent this, while the CMA also concluded that it would not be commercially beneficial to the business.

Kirstin Baker, chair of the independent inquiry group carrying out the investigation, said: “The NHS increasingly relies on digital technology and data analytics to support the delivery of high-quality healthcare.

“So, it is important to ensure that, as the main customer of these services, the NHS continues to have access to the options and innovations that new and developing technology can bring.

“Following a thorough investigation, careful consideration of a broad range of evidence and consultation with a variety of stakeholders, we are satisfied that this deal will not reduce competition or mean that the NHS and its patients lose out.”