Cherie Blair’s plan to make millions of pounds through a chain of Healthcare clinics has gone spectacularly wrong.
The business - called Mee Healthcare - has gone bust with the doors shutting on its 11 clinics.
The true scale of the losses is not clear - although they are thought to be several million pounds - while it is understood that staff, suppliers and customers are all owed money.
At least 38 staff have lost their jobs along with locum opticians, dentists and other clinicians.
Employees were informed the clinics, located inside Sainsbury’s supermarkets, were closing down on Thursday evening. Some received letters and others were told in a conference call.
Staff were told to lock up the clinics and leave the keys with the Sainsbury’s managers.
Notes posted on locked clinic doors said: “Dear Customers, It is with deep regret that mee Healthcare has ceased trading as of 18 June 2015. Unfortunately, Mee Healthcare will be unable to deliver any bookings, any orders, or make refunds of any deposits paid.
“Customers who have paid for goods not yet received should contact their credit or debit card provider for a refund. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
One former member of staff told The Telegraph she was owed about £6,000 in wages, having not been paid since May. She also claimed that customers had paid for glasses and hearing aids but not received them.
Mrs Blair, a human rights lawyer and wife of the former prime minister Tony Blair, set up Mee Healthcare with an American business partner Gail Lese, a qualified doctor and fund manager.
The company was financed through an investment fund set up by the women called the Allele Fund, which is based in the Cayman Islands, an offshore tax haven, and had planned to open 100 clinics in five years.
But in a letter to employees, the company said: “In the last week, the management team has been in discussions with potential purchasers of the business. However these discussions have not achieved a sale of the business.
“As a result, the management team has reached the difficult decision, based on professional advice, for mee Healthcare to cease trading with immediate effect. For the avoidance of doubt, your current employment is terminated with immediate effect.”
Others were told in a conference call which, according to reports, became heated.
Mee Healthcare opened its first clinic amid great fanfare in March 2012 in Leeds with a promise to open 100 more.
But The Telegraph reported in March this year - under the headline ‘Poorly start to Cherie Blair’s venture into Healthcare’ - that the company had only managed ten more openings, the last in Romford as long ago as January 2014, and had run up multi-million pound losses.
A holding company Worldwide Health and Wellness Centres showed losses of more than £7.7 million on accounts posted on Dec 31, 2013, the most recently available. Two stores for which accounts were available each showed losses of more than £500,000.
One former employee said at the time: “It was all too quiet where I was working. It’s a good idea because there is a lot of footfall in these Sainsbury’s, but they got the pricing structure wrong. The prices [for spectacles] were too high.
Another insider said: “On the face of it, the clinic I worked in was a beautiful practice, very well set up with the best equipment, but behind the facade it felt like chaos.”
Mrs Blair had taken a back seat role in the company which was run by Ms Lese, a one-time republican politician in the US.
Following the Telegraph article, Ms Lese threatened legal action against this newspaper and has also taken a claim to the press regulator Ipso. She argued in March that the losses were entirely expected for a start up company and that everything was going to plan.
On Saturday, Ms Lese said of her company’s closure: “I am personally deeply disappointed, having dedicated all of my time and significant personal assets to the venture.
“I’m extremely proud of what we achieved in helping our patients and customers, and I want to thank my colleagues sincerely for the excellent work we have done together.”