Centres for Clinical Excellence (CCE), the healthcare company set up as a doctors' co-operative, is set to become one of the UK's biggest private healthcare players treating NHS patients as it prepares to acquire Nations Healthcare and bids to take over Mercury Health, HSJ has learned.

CCE's acquisition of Nations Healthcare will give it a sizeable chunk of the UK private sector healthcare market along with contracts to run three of the Department of Health's independent sector treatment centres.

The DoH has a contract with Nations Healthcare to provide a range of elective surgery to NHS patients at centres in Bradford, Burton, and Nottingham.

The largest centre is based at Nottingham's Queens Medical Centre and is contracted to do 25,000 operations per year over five years.

Nations Healthcare is also one of 14 companies listed in the DoH's extended choice network, along with Mercury Health.

If CCE also succeeds in its bid to acquire Mercury Health, a division of support services company Tribal Group, it stands to gain a further five independent sector centres, a GP practice run by Mercury Health for City and Hackney primary care trust, and a contract with the DoH to provide diagnostics services across the West Midlands.

CCE, which was set up in 2004 and bankrolled by City investors, has so far failed to bid for any of the ISTC contracts to provide extra capacity under choice, as it has had no hospital facilities in which to provide services.