American private health company UnitedHealth has made 40 per cent of its UK executive team redundant as part of a “change in strategic priorities”, HSJ has learned.

Sales director Graeme Eccles, managing director of client solutions Phyllissa Shelton and programme director Gail Newmarch were all given 90 days’ notice of redundancy in December, HSJ understands.

The executive team now consists of chief executive Katherine Ward, alongside a finance director, human resources director, director of external affairs and a part time director of clinical commissioning.

A source familiar with the company said: “Those people [who have been made redundant] represented the driving force of UnitedHealth UK – what does a business do if it’s not selling or bringing in business?”

UnitedHealth UK reported a loss of £13.9m in 2010, up from a £7.2m loss the previous year. The firm wrote off £5m when it disposed of its practice management subsidiary last year as its focus shifted to providing commissioning support.

The source said the firm, which has operated in the UK since 2003, was under increasing pressure from its US parent company to bring in results and now faced a “ticking clock”.

Last year rival US firm Humana announced it was to pull out of the UK as it could see few opportunities.

Nick Bosanquet, professor of health policy at Imperial College London, told HSJ the NHS was a tough market but the main problem seemed to be the business model of many big US firms.

He said: “It’s a highly competitive market and firms that have operated mainly in the US have often found it difficult to adjust to lower prices [in the NHS].”

UnitedHealth UK said in a statement: “A small number of redundancies were made at the end of last year to reflect a change in strategic priorities.

“We’re here to stay and remain committed to working as partners to the NHS for the long term.

“We are actively engaged in discussions with NHS commissioning support services about partnership opportunities and how combining our experiences with skills and knowledge of NHS can support better commissioning.”