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Our history

Our beginnings

Bupa was created on 3 April 1947 with the founding purpose – ‘to prevent, relieve and cure sickness and ill-health of every kind’ – enshrined in our original constitution, combining a caring ethos with freedom of choice.

Originally called the British United Provident Association, Bupa was never actually a provident association itself. Four large associations (the Central Provident Association, the British Provident Association, the Oxford and District Provident Association and the Birmingham Extended Benefit Scheme) and other smaller associations and hospital contributory schemes came together to create Bupa a private company limited by guarantee without shareholders.

By July 1948 we had 38,000 customers and an 80% share of the private health insurance market. Today we serve more than 27 million people across the globe.

The historical roots of our business in Australia are also deep – the firm that was to join Bupa in 2002 was originally founded in the 1930s to help people cover the cost of their hospital treatment. Sanitas, our business in Spain was founded in 1956 and joined Bupa in 1989. We have been in Hong Kong for forty years, it being one of the first places outside the UK that Bupa expanded to.

Over the past 70 years, we’ve been driven by our passion to provide high quality, affordable healthcare and by our purpose: helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives.

1950s

We began the first major company health insurance scheme.

We adopted our first logo: a shield. The accompanying motto ‘Your Shield in Illness’ expressed our caring and protective approach to our customers, and reflected our commitment to offering affordable, high-quality healthcare.

Membership grew as demand for healthcare increased dramatically. To meet this demand, we founded the Nursing Homes Charitable Trust, later renamed Nuffield Hospitals.

By 1954 we were running 1,700 group schemes, which accounted for over half of all new customers.

By 1955, Bupa membership had exceeded 200,000.

1960s

By 1960 we had around 400,000 subscriptions and insured nearly 800,000 people.

In the face of huge pressure on UK hospital places, our hospital funding programme created a national network providing quality care.

We helped found the International Federation of Voluntary Health Service Funds and Bupa membership reached 1.5 million.

In 1967, we took the first step into the digital age by installing our first computer. The computer occupied two floors, and grew to take over almost the entire building of Bupa’s head office in Essex Street, London.

By the end of the 1960s, Bupa was well-established as the UK’s leading health-insurer but we were also beginning to take a more active role in the direct provision of healthcare, a trend that would accelerate during the 1970s. 

1970s

We pioneered the concept of health screening, opening our first health screening centre in London in 1970, screening 7,500 people during that year. 

We launched our first TV advertising campaign.

In 1976 we acquired the UK’s first full-body scanner. By helping doctors to confirm or rule out an initial diagnosis, CT scanners have saved countless lives. Bupa was one of the first organisations in the UK to recognise their value.

In the 1970s, breast cancer was becoming more common as people lived longer lives. In 1974, in partnership with a local doctor, we opened a breast screening clinic in Manchester, followed by a second in Glasgow in 1976. We launched our first mobile breast screening unit in 1977.

‘Having been a leader in preventive medicine,’ observed the 1978 Annual Report, ‘Bupa has now opened a series of intervention clinics.’  

Malta was the site of Bupa’s first overseas business in 1971.We also first began to expand to provide services across Asia, beginning in Hong Kong in 1976.

In 1979, the Bupa Medical Foundation was created. The Foundation adopted Bupa's primary purpose – ‘to prevent, relieve and cure sickness and ill-health of every kind ... and to promote health in any way’. By the time the Foundation was replaced by new charitable initiatives in 2013, it had given grants of more than £33 million to promising medical research projects.

1980s

We grew our European footprint by acquiring Sanitas, by then Spain’s largest healthcare organisation, in 1989. We also began working in tandem with the UK's National Health Service, including managing services, and began working with universities in the postgraduate training of young doctors. 

In 1982, Bupa International was launched to provide worldwide medical cover to people working outside their home country. This initiative was described as ‘the first comprehensive scheme to make available a flexible structure of benefits to provide adequate cover for hospital treatment and specialist fees anywhere in the world’. 

In the 1980s, we became Europe's largest health screening operator, with the service employing 300 doctors and 50 specially-trained nurses.

The 1980s saw Bupa’s first entry into the care home sector. Bupa House, our first care home, was built in Milton Keynes, in the heart of central England. The home opened in 1985 with 36 rooms and only 5 residents. 

1990s

We continued to grow in the care homes sector with the acquisition of 30 homes in the UK in 1996 and a further 181 homes in 1997 through Bupa's purchase of Community Nursing Homes, Goldsborough Healthcare Group and Care First Group. Today, we are the world's largest provider of residential care for older people.

Bupa moved to a new head office in Bloomsbury Way, London in 1996. 

We expanded our Asian footprint to Thailand in the mid-1990s and Bupa Arabia was launched in 1997.

We acquired Barbican Healthcare in 1999, which strengthened Bupa’s occupational health and screening activities and gave us the opportunity to directly provide dental services for the first time.

We launched an advertising campaign in the 1990s with the slogan ‘You’re amazing. We want you to stay that way’. 

Bupa's international health insurance business flourished. By the early 1990s, we covered 170 countries and settled claims in 84 currencies.

2000s

At the start of the decade we had 31,000 employees.

Sanitas soared by becoming the first company in Spain to sell health insurance policies to customers over the internet. We opened two new hospitals in Spain: La Moraleja in Madrid, in 2005, and Hospital de Manises, opened in 2009 as part of a revolutionary public-private partnership with the regional government of Valencia.

We entered the Australian health insurance market and also expanded our care homes division into Australia and New Zealand while, in Europe, we acquired Bupa Home Healthcare.

The UK business underwent a major change in 2007 with the sale of Bupa's hospitals. 

Our operations continued to grow across the Middle East. We also bought Health Dialog in the US, specialists in effective healthcare management.

We introduced the 'Person First' approach to dementia care in the UK in 2009. This considers the individual in a holistic way, including their general health and who they are – their life story, personality, and ‘what makes them them’.

We set up Bupa Wellness in the UK in 1999, creating a leading provider of high-quality, progressive, preventative healthcare services. By the middle of the 2000s, there were more than 40 Bupa Wellness clinics.

Bupa’s purpose was updated to ‘longer, healthier, happier lives’, to embrace both the physical and mental aspects of quality of life.

Lord Alexander Leitch, known as Sandy, was appointed Bupa’s chairman in 2006. 

By 2008, Bupa's interests in aged care had grown to 33,000 beds with 37,000 staff members, spread across the UK, Spain, Australia and New Zealand.

By 2008 the UK health insurance business covered four million people.

In March 2008, we purchased the Bupa Cromwell Hospital in the UK, a leading London hospital renowned for being the first to invest in cutting edge equipment and cancer services.

2010s

We are helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives all over the world. We continue to expand our aged care provisionin the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and Spain, we have grown our presence across Asia and in Latin America, and we are entering new segments in existing markets, including dental clinics in Australia, Spain and the UK.

Max Bupa launched in India in 2010 and in June 2016 we increased our stake to 49%. 

In 2012, we entered Poland by acquiring LUX MED, Poland's largest private healthcare provider, including four hospitals and over 100 clinics.

We bought a 56.38% stake in Chile's Cruz Blanca Salud in February 2013, and purchased the remainder of what has become Bupa Chile, in January 2016. 

Sanitas purchased the CIMA hospital in Barcelona, and now operates two Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in Valencia and Torrejón. In May 2013, Sanitas acquired Clínica Londres, a group of 14 health clinics throughout Spain. 

In August 2013 we made a further step into the care village sector by acquiring Richmond Care Villages in the UK, and in October that year, we purchased Quality HealthCare, the largest private clinic network in Hong Kong.

In Australia, we brought our three health insurance brands under the Bupa name, and in December 2013, we purchased Dental Corporation, Australia and New Zealand’s largest dental group. We also acquired the aged care operations of Innovative Care in Australia, making us the largest private aged care provider in Australia.

Concurrent with our purchase in 2013 of a 49% stake in Highway to Health, Inc, a US health insurance provider, we entered into a strategic global partnership with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA)1. Together we are creating the largest networks of healthcare providers worldwide, giving customers of our Bupa Global2/BlueCross BlueShield co-branded products access to over 1.2 million medical providers worldwide.

In a first for Bupa, in 2016 we begain working with Lloyds Banking Group (LBG), one of our largest corporate clients, to develop cover for people with gender dysphoria - a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.

1. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is a national federation of 36 independent, community-based and locally-operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide health care coverage for more than 107 million members. 2. Bupa Global is a trade name of Bupa, an independent licensee of Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Bupa Global’s rights to use the Blue Cross Blue Shield Brands are limited in some areas.

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