Making Sense of Change: The healthcare companies scaling up to support the NHS
The impact of Covid-19, from the millions whose health has been affected to the economies hit hard, continues to stretch healthcare systems thinner and thinner. And with the country on lockdown, people and companies alike are being forced to adapt incredibly quickly.
In this challenging time, those that support our healthcare services are doing all they can – from thousands volunteering to support the NHS, to retired doctors returning to the frontline, while we are seeing some immense efforts within the wider healthcare sector.
Companies such as Inspiration Healthcare, Doctor Care Anywhere (part of Synergix Health) and CHS Healthcare all deliver vital support and are doing so on a previously unimaginable scale, pivoting operations to help where they are needed most. Central to that is ensuring essential services – such as neonatal care or patient discharging – continue, despite the impact of Coronavirus, social distancing and the lockdown.
“Even though hospitals can postpone certain things, the one thing that everybody wants to postpone, but can’t, is a premature baby,” explains Neil Campbell, chief executive of Inspiration Healthcare Group.”
“Babies are still being born prematurely. We have the same demand for neonatal intensive care products that we’ve always had. “So the first thing we did [when the pandemic hit the UK] was to make sure that we were able to continue to deliver the products and the service to the neonatal intensive care units around the country.”
Similarly, keeping the flow of patients through the NHS to keep beds available for critical care for Covid-19 patients is vital, with Sir Simon Stevens, CEO of the NHS, calling for 15,000 beds to be freed up through discharging as the crisis hit.
“A vast proportion of people are medically fit enough to be discharged but cannot get the right care organised to get them out of hospital,” says Dr Gabrielle Silver, CEO of CHS Healthcare, “so we work with the NHS to accelerate this. “Pre-COVID, our target was to have a patient discharged within five days of a referral.
Now we have to get people out of hospital within three hours. We have moved from a position of, on average, discharging 1,000 patients a month to 1,000 patients a week. “But we know the communities, we know the care providers, and we know the hospitals very well and they trust us to take on the greater level of work.”
Easing the workload on the NHS also means looking to technology and adopting virtual healthcare where possible, but there have been hurdles to overcome as “coming into the crisis, we had an entire NHS workforce who didn’t really know how to do virtual consultations,” says Dr Bayju Thakar, founder of Doctor Care Anywhere. “Shortly after the outbreak, we started training GPs. Three weeks ago, 90% of all GP consults were done in person, and now 90% are virtual.
“Alongside that, we are providing virtual services to over 2 million private patients, releasing pressure on the NHS. Those people are not having to use 111, go to A&E or GP practices; they can access high-quality services, reduce infection, and not put pressure on the system.”
“Demand for our services has gone through the roof – more than 250% compared with this time last year.” CHS Healthcare is also leveraging technology to better support the NHS when it comes to reviewing the approximately 70,000 very complex care patients who qualify for NHS funding, moving “the entirety of our service to be remote.”
“We are linking up with the families and the carers of patients,” says Silver, “to check that they are safe and well, that they are receiving the appropriate care, and if they need further care because of the crisis. We are the critical link between health and social care.”
Beyond the core services that continue to be delivered in the face of adversity, a strong community spirit of support and knowledge sharing is clear to see. “We have set up free training modules, which have now been viewed over 10,000 times,” says Thakar.
“Having that many GPs go through our training programme is no small feat. “And we have a lot of HR directors at companies asking how they are going to look after their staff when they are working from home. Our team have developed webinars for our corporate base, to help them take care of their staff and we’ve supported more than 400 companies in that way for free.”
Similarly, Inspiration Healthcare is helping with the government’s call for more ventilators, not only as a distributor (one of their core business streams) but joining VentilatorChallengeUK as an expert adviser, as well as assisting more broadly with the industry. “We’ve got experience in delivering novel respiratory equipment and we did that during the swine flu pandemic,” Campbell explains.
“Companies come to us for advice – where they can get components from, whether the ventilator set-up makes sense from a user’s perspective or whether they can borrow our test equipment.”
“We’ve been pleased to be able to help, because in the end, it’s not a race between companies, it’s a race against Covid-19.” CHS is similarly using its expertise and connections to help solve issues outside its usual remit.
“For example, we were asked about phlebotomy services. Although that is not something we do, we were able to assist and find a solution through our network, partnering with another provider that was able to do the services,” Silver says.
“In the end, we’re all united around a common purpose and we’ve all got a part to play.” Unsurprisingly, it’s not been easy to adapt and deliver both the quality and sheer volume of service.
Thakar, Silver and Campbell all credit the efforts of their workforce and the quick decision to move as much of their operations to remote working as possible as crucial. “As a healthcare business with about 400 people, we made the early decision to move every single person to remote working,” Silver explains.
“We needed to protect our workforce and take them offsite because the service that we provide – which is hugely important most of the time – is critical at this moment. “The early decision meant that we were ahead of the curve, to make sure that we had all of the technology that we needed and access to all our software platforms from home.”
For Doctor Care Anywhere, Thakar says they’ve not only had to relocate their 200 staff but manage growth: “We’ve had to hire pretty fast and shift ourselves to train our doctors and customer services, all remotely. The effort of the team has been in some cases super-human. It’s been totally humbling to see,” For Inspiration Healthcare, remote working is not an option for some of its staff and services.
To help mitigate the risk, Campbell explains they took “a normal risk approach for extraordinary times”. “We’ve split shifts. We’ve got social distancing in the factories. Our staff are only going to hospitals for things like urgent and critical tech support, but obviously, if a ventilator breaks, it needs to be fixed.
All our staff are being issued with PPE, whether from ourselves or the hospital, otherwise, they’re not to go, because the safety of the staff is absolutely paramount.” But this difficult time has also laid bare some of the flaws in our healthcare system, such as the disconnect between different data systems or long and complex supply chains, and presents the opportunity to fix things for the better.
As Campbell says “I think every company will have a bit of a moment of reflection and say, what can we do differently? “We’ve seen you can’t just treble or quadruple all your medical equipment at a moment’s notice, so perhaps it will be about making supply chains more robust or more localised.”
“There isn’t an integrated data system even between stages of care,” explains Silver. “What the crisis has demonstrated is just how important it is to be able to follow patients up and provide ongoing care for what will be a pretty fragile population who have had to deal with Covid-19 as well as the usual healthcare issues.” “We need to bring these systems together and bridge the health and social care divide.”
Alongside this, Thakar believes this is a seminal moment for digital healthcare. “Afterwards, there’s going to be huge pent-up demand for medical procedures. We’re working with the NHS on how we can be supportive and get specialists on the platform to help triage.”
“The shift we’ve seen to virtual consultations means has just come about far quicker than we could have predicted. But it means, as a company, we also have to stay ahead of the curve, as what we do today will no longer be niche. It’ll be normal.”
But ultimately, as we continue to fight an era-defining crisis, seeing leadership and fight from the healthcare industry offers some respite. “These companies – and companies across our portfolio – have moved very quickly to look after their staff and adapt to changing market dynamics,” says Ben Barker, regional head of portfolio at BGF. “Faced with an incredibly challenging environment, we’re seeing so many instances of resilience, decisive leadership and innovation.”
“Within BGF’s portfolio, every business has its own unique set of circumstances and our investors, as Board members, have been working closely with them, to help make sense of the environment, to focus on priorities and to be as supportive as possible.”
“Healthcare is fortunate in that most people understand there’s a duty and a responsibility beyond just making money,” Thakar says. “When you’re faced with adversity, people step up. You’ve seen it in the NHS and also in the healthcare companies.”
“This is a time for authentic leadership,” says Silver, “which is caring about people, being honest about the things you can and you can’t control, and letting people be themselves.”
While Campbell finishes by adding: “Our philosophy has always been patient first. Our people have all risen to the challenge. We are a critical care company. If we don’t do our bit, then who else is going to do it?”
Inspiration Healthcare, CHS Healthcare and Synergix are backed by BGF. CHS Healthcare is headquartered in Sutton Coldfield and Synergix is headquartered in London; BGF has a seat on the Board of both. Inspiration Healthcare is listed on AIM and is based in Crawley, Leicestershire and Co Down in Northern Ireland.
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