Our history

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 a provident association. Four large associations 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 31 million people across the globe.

The historical roots of our businesses across the world are also deep. In Australia, 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. Hong Kong was one of the first places outside the UK that Bupa expanded into40 years ago.

For over 70 years we have been driven by our passion to provide high quality, affordable healthcare and our purpose: helping people to 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.

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. 

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.

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 in the UK. 

1990s

We continued to grow in the care homes sector with the acquisition of over 200 homes in the UK through purchasing Community Nursing Homes, Goldsborough Healthcare Group and Care First Group.

We expanded our Asian footprint to Thailand in the mid-1990s and Saudi Arabia 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 and Hospital de Manises, as part of a 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 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.

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 continue to help people live longer, healthier, happier lives all over the world. 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 2013, and purchased the remainder of what has become Bupa Chile, in 2016. 

Sanitas purchased the CIMA hospital in Barcelona, and started a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in Valencia. In May 2013, Sanitas acquired Clínica Londres, a group of 14 health clinics throughout Spain. 

In 2013, we acquired Richmond Care Villages in the UK, and 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.

Concurrent with our purchase in 2014 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 the largest network of healthcare providers worldwide, giving customers of our Bupa Global2/BlueCross BlueShield co-branded products access to over 1.2 million medical providers worldwide.

We have continued to selectively enter new health insurance markets, acquiring Care Plus in Brazil in 2016 and Acibadem Sigorta in Turkey in 2019. We divested our insurance business in Thailand in 2017.

In the UK, we also took the strategic decision to reduce the size of our care homes business in the UK in 2017 and divested Bupa Home Healthcare in 2016.

During this period Bupa has also significantly increased its footprint in dental care worldwide, including acquiring Oasis Dental Care and its portfolio of 380 practices in the UK and Ireland.

Today

Today, health insurance accounts for the major part of our business across the world with 16.7m customers and contributes around 75% of revenue. We operate clinics, dental centres and hospitals in some markets, with around 15m customers. We also have aged care businesses in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Spain.

We directly employ around 80,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Poland, Chile, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Turkey, the US, Brazil, the Middle East and Ireland. We also have associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.


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.

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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