US private healthcare firm Humana is to pull out of the NHS commissioning support market and wind down its UK business within six months.

The news, reported by HSJ, comes just ahead of the publication of the Health Bill, which is widely expected to enable the private sector to take over large chunks of NHS commissioning on behalf of GP consortia.

However, Humana Europe’s marketing and communications director Lee Phillips was quoted by HSJ as saying the firm saw little prospect of any significant opportunities in the immediate future.

Phillips said Humana’s UK arm, which employs about 70 people, was not taking on any new work, and was in talks with “interested parties” about selling off all or part of its business. If the firm fails to find a buyer for its UK business it is likely to be closed.

Humana started its UK operation in 2006, in response to the framework for procuring external support for commissioners (FESC), a DH framework contract designed to buy in private sector commissioning expertise.

However, only a small number of PCTs ever used the FESC framework. HSJ says Humana only won contracts with NHS Barnsley and NHS East of England; although it was involved in demonstrator projects and health promotion initiatives with other PCTs.

Companies offering commissioning support have seen mixed fortunes since the general election. Earlier this year, EHI Primary Care reported that NHS Northamptonshire had ended its contract with United Health UK a year early.

This was one of the first contracts signed under FESC. Just this week, however, KPMG secured a deal to provide commissioning support to NHS London.