Care UK is the largest independent provider of NHS services in the country, supplying health advice and support to more than five million people. It is also the largest developer of new residential and nursing care homes in the UK, providing its services from 118 care homes with a total of more than 7,700 beds.

photo of Jonathan Calow, in-house lawyer, Care UK

What is less well known is that Care UK is also the largest independent sector provider of healthcare services in prisons and secure facilities, operating in a total of 42 sites.

Group legal director Jonathan Calow, who trained at Allen & Overy (A&O), says his seven-strong legal team covers a wide range of matters. They include M&A, corporate risk and compliance, insurance, and company secretarial and incentive schemes relating not only to care homes but also to elective treatment centres, primary care/111 services and prison-related work which, he admits, is often the most eye-catching.

The cases the team deals with are often harrowing. In one gangland murder an inmate was macheted to death before being thrown off the roof of the prison. Third on the scene in a situation such as this – after the killer and prison officers – will be the healthcare team, leading to a coroner’s inquest.

We provide healthcare services to 42 prisons and immigration centres” Jonathan Calow

“When I started, Care UK was probably involved in a couple of coroners’ inquests each year,” says Calow. “Now we provide healthcare services to 42 prisons and immigration centres including Wormwood Scrubs and Wakefield it’s on a different scale. Every death in custody requires a coroner’s inquest.”

Calow says joining as the company’s first lawyer was one of the big attractions when he was considering making the move.

“Until then I’d always been the number two but here there wasn’t a function to inherit,” he says.

The past year has been a particularly busy time for Calow’s team. Recent months have seen the sale of two non-core businesses, an insurance renewal programme, more than 100 coroners’ inquests and the launch of self-pay healthcare services.

Patrick Speller, a corporate partner at panel firm CMS (formerly legacy Nabarro), advised on the business sales, while BLM, Clyde & Co and Hill Dickinson assisted with the company’s inquest work.

Separately, last month news broke that Bridgepoint, the private equity owner of the business following a 2010 £414m MBO, was looking to exit, having held its investment for eight years.

Calow did not comment on the possible sale of the business but highlighted the disposals on which CMS advised.

“They’re on our panel for this type of work,” says Calow. “We also obtained advice from Hill Dickinson with regard to the launch of our self-pay offering.”

Legal panel relationships driven by personality

Calow reviews Care UK’s seven-firm panel annually but admits that in practice this means meeting with the various relationship partners for an hour over a coffee to catch up on developments.

“Our relationships are driven by personality,” confirms Calow. “In corporate my go-to person is Patrick Speller, who’s also ex-A&O. I worked with him years ago. He’s a first-rate lawyer and he attracts good lawyers to him. I don’t want a presentation; I just want a coffee and the chance to ask them a question they haven’t prepared for.”

Calow estimates that around a third of his team’s work is handled in-house, with the external work including a significant proportion of property and litigation matters.

CV: Jonathan Calow

Reports to CFO Philip Whitecross

2007-present company secretary and group legal director, Care UK

2005-07 Group legal adviser, WPP Group

2001-05 Group legal adviser, DS Smith

1993-2001 Allen & Overy (qualified as a solicitor in April 1996)

This article is taken from The Lawyer’s monthly magazine. The latest issue contains insights into succession planning at top firms plus in-house interviews and key findings from the new Global Real Estate 50 report. To subscribe please click here.

If you already have an online subscription, you can contact to upgrade to print and online.