17 Jul Creating the future
Innovation is the key to success, says Mel Rankine, Commercial Director at University Hospital Southampton
University Hospital Southampton (UHS) is a major teaching hospital, with an annual turnover well in excess of £700m and employs 11,000 people. The NHS trust provides services to a population of 1.9million people living in south Hampshire, as well as specialist services such as neurosciences, cardiac services and children’s intensive care to more than 3.7 million people in central southern England and the Channel Islands. The Trust is also a major centre for teaching and research in association with the University of Southampton and partners including the Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust.
My job as Commercial Director is to develop a surplus income for the Trust for the benefit of NHS patients. I’m interested in working with innovative companies to develop ideas and products that have commercial potential both in the UK and abroad for the benefit of both parties.
We’re particularly keen to help SMEs to find a way of entry into the NHS which many organisations, particularly international companies, find very challenging. We want to show them an easier way to access the NHS by meeting us and telling us about their product or innovation and, where needed, assist with further research and development to proof of concept stage.
There are already very well established guidelines for companies wishing to sell existing products directly to the NHS. Our vision goes beyond this – looking for the ideas and products that will shape the healthcare of tomorrow, not today.
A hospital is much more than a medical establishment; it’s actually a small town. Everything that a small town needs to function, such as providing power, waste collection and maintenance is just as relevant in a hospital as it is in any other environment. We’re always looking to find ways to improve those facilities. For example, we’re currently working with a local company that has produced an anaerobic digester to process all the hospital waste, saving hundreds of thousands of pounds in energy costs. At the other extreme, we’ve partnered with a number of companies to look at digital technology, from developing algorithms and ideas for monitoring patients’ vital signs, to a novel medical device that helps people with acid reflux. We’re open to any ideas that will help us to improve productivity and patient care.
If someone has an idea or product that may benefit the NHS they can contact me, and we will quickly assess whether we think it has any potential, and how we might jointly develop the concept. It could mean taking it to an experimental stage where we carry out joint research to make sure there’s a proof of concept; or it might be trialling the product, depending on what it is.
Once there is proof that a product works in an organisation, it creates a huge opportunity to expand. Within the NHS it can be difficult, as every hospital operates independently, but we work with enabling organisations such as Academic Health Science Networks to facilitate and spread health innovation across boundaries.
The NHS is moving into a new phase with STPs – Sustainable Transformation Plans – for the next five years. As a result, many organisations have started talking to each other, creating not only international consortia such as the Academic Health Science Network here in Wessex but also at a local level. As a result we’re able to exchange information in a far more effective way than we’ve been able to do in the past.
Joining Wessex AHSN is one of the best moves we’ve made for some time. The NHS is struggling and always will do in terms of resources, and to be able to attract the right people internationally is always going to be a challenge for us as an individual hospital. By creating a consortium we can capitalise on the strengths that all the trusts have to sell business abroad and to attract inward investment into the UK. Being able to pool our resources, particularly for large international markets, represents a fantastic opportunity for all parties.
It’s also an opportunity to bring other partners with us. One of the companies that we’re working with at the moment is already, off the back of the work they’ve been doing with us, selling some of their products internationally in Europe and indeed in the States and China.
As an NHS Foundation Trust we have certain freedoms to develop in international markets where an ordinary NHS facility might find it more challenging. We have the ability to look at products, and set up companies and joint ventures.
Within the consortium there is a huge amount of expertise, both clinical and non-clinical, that can help develop hospitals throughout the world. Equally, we have a great deal to learn from other countries and we are keen to share expertise and knowledge for mutual benefit.
We want to innovate as much as we possibly can to benefit NHS patients through lower costs and better productivity. We’re concentrating on accessing new ideas and new concepts, and aligning people who can bring them into the NHS. It’s a very exciting time for us – the opportunities are real and bring tangible benefits.
Case study: Anaerobic digestion
The Trust has been working in partnership with a local company to develop an anaerobic digester, which will convert all our food and garden waste into energy. This will save us several hundred thousand pounds a year in terms of energy costs, which means that the return on the investment is particularly attractive.
Both parties will benefit from the future sale of these digesters, both in UK hospitals and abroad. We have already been approached by a very large public facilities management company that is considering installing the system into other hospitals as they gain contracts. We are supporting our partner by allowing potential clients to view the facility and by talking about it at conferences. These units are potentially mobile; they’re fitted into shipping containers and are easily transportable to any part of the world where they can generate their own power.
Robotics is another area that is very exciting, and not just robots that can undertake operations. We have very limited robotics, but there is huge potential to improve productivity in a hospital if you can develop robotic delivery of catering, or removing waste and linen. These services are really in their infancy, and not many hospitals, unless they are a new build, are able to develop them.
Curated from Article – Collaborate