Private healthcare giant BUPA yesterday posted a 47 per cent jump in profits after customer numbers grew during the buoyant economic conditions earlier this year.

The privately-owned company, which specialises in insurance and care homes - it is due to open new homes in Bromsgrove, Malvern and Walsall this year and next - saw pre-tax profits rise to £166 million during the six months to June 30 after insurance customer numbers increased by three per cent, boosted by strong growth in the expatriate corporate sector.

But BUPA warned that profits growth would slow during the second half of the year as it increases investment across its core businesses following the sale of its hospital operations in August.

Chief executive Val Gooding said: "BUPA has maintained strong trading momentum in the first half of 2007. Customer numbers have risen strongly, reflecting the attractiveness of BUPA's high quality health and care services and generally favourable economic conditions in key markets.

"The group continues to invest significant funds in the development of its core businesses. This investment, and an anticipated return to historical claims levels in international insurance will slow the rate of growth in underlying surplus in the second half.

"We remain confident that BUPA has an attractive range of market opportunities. We will continue to invest in the business for the benefit of our customers."

The group's UK insurance business, which provides private medical insurance to 4.3 million customers - including expatriates - saw revenues rise by five per cent to £956.6 million.

Despite the growth, operating profits at the division fell by £9.6 million to £28.4 million due to higher claims levels and increased investment.

Customer numbers were stable as growth across the business was offset by a decline in BUPA Ireland customers following the announcement in April of BUPA's withdrawal from the market. BUPA completed the sale of its Irish operations to the Quinn Group at the end of July.

UK membership also benefited from the specialist MRI network launched in 2006, which gives access to leading radiologists and scanners around the country.

The group's health assurance business, which provides life assurance, income protection and critical illness cover, increased membership by 14 per cent during the period, driven by improved products and the launch of an online business facility for brokers.

BUPA's care home arm also posted an eight per cent rise in revenues £309.9 million, with profits up 13 per cent to £55 million, despite slower fee growth following a tightening of local authority budgets.

The group plans to increase investment in its care homes in the second half as part of significant extension and refurbishment programmes.

In August, the company bought Avalon Care Homes, adding five new homes to take its UK total to 300. It also has 35 homes in Spain.

International insurance enjoyed strong growth, with revenues increasing by 12 per cent to £740.7 million, boosted by higher volumes in Spain and Australia and a drop in claims.

As a provident, BUPA does not have shareholders and profits are ploughed back into patient care. BUPA has more than seven million customers in 190 countries.