Injecting innovation

Injecting innovation

Mike Hughes talks to Matt Lamb, director of Nuffield Health’s York Hospital, about the opportunities for entrepreneurs in the medical sector.

When you see a medical breakthrough being discussed on the TV news and hear the intro “Doctors have, for the first time, been able to......” we are all used to responding “It’s amazing what they can do nowadays...”

The pace of change in the medical sector is lightning-fast. Procedures, medication and strategies that are saving thousands of lives every day simply didn’t exist a decade ago.
This is one of the most dramatic areas of entrepreneurialism, where an innovative idea will be snapped up by hospitals and clinics not only because it is a revenue-earner, but because it can help patients who thought help was beyond them.

Alongside the global medical companies who have such an impact on our hospitals, the image of calm precision at hospitals like the Nuffield Health in York owes a lot to entrepreneurs who have battled to bring to market their ideas.

BQ Yorkshire has talked with many of them – from Kevin Kiely, joint founder and MD of health technology support organisation Medilink, to Mel Elyard of Aptamer Group, which makes synthetic compounds which attach to targets such as cancer cells and viruses, and Richard Paxman whose family business in Huddersfield makes scalp-cooling caps that help prevent chemotherapy-induced alopecia. All driven and passionate entrepreneuers determined to make a difference.

For Matt Lamb, hospital director for Nuffield Health in York, such businesses have always played a key role in modern medicine. “Nuffield Health is in a great position to benefit because we have the hospitals, but also gyms, medical centres and a new diagnostic centre in Manchester providing the full set of services for people beginning to worry about their health or just keeping well,” he told me.

“We are unique in the way we are joined up in that way and the fact that we are a not-for-profit organisation allows us to plan ahead for a longer period of time without being at the beck and call of shareholders and owners that want a quick return on their investment.

“So we are able to make investments in innovation which, on paper, might not seem to make an immediate financial return, but in terms of what the overall health and wellbeing market needs it allows us to have a different strategy to our competitors.

“In the last 15 years I have seen how the market has changed and how far ahead of the game Nuffield Health is as far as innovation is concerned. There are various areas of innovation that we need to consider – not only focusing on putting the patient at the centre of our healthcare strategy, but also technology, research and the process side to our operation.

“The health sector is looking at the whole person now, so that is not just about someone getting a knee injury, getting it treated and going away again. It is about how we can prevent people getting ill or injured in the first place.

“But through all these we have to be cost-effective so that we can pass that on to the people who use our services.”

The concept of tailored medical care is hugely important to the medical sector now. There is an open door here for new technology that allows patients to receive DNA-specific treatments that are literally perfect for their bodies and therefore more capable of doing their job than off-the-shelf products.

Counter-intuitively, the other big area to look at is hospital avoidance. How to make a growing business out of helping people stay away from one of your core businesses. The balance, of course, is to be very good at both and provide a continuous loop of holistic treatment for wellbeing and medical needs.

Personalised care and wellbeing are both desperate for new ideas and processes which will keep them one step ahead of their rivals. Yes, it is specialised, but its appeal to entrepreneurs is widening as it moves away from pure medical tech.

“The gyms we have aren’t just for people to purely drop into and do their classes, sit-ups, weights and press-ups,” said Matt.

“It is all about treating the wellbeing of an individual and there is all sorts of new technology needed here, even down to Nuffield Health investing tens of millions into a new IT structure that will replace our existing multiple systems and provide a fantastic interface for all stakeholders.”

So with all those opportunities, how do you actually start a working relationship with giants like Nuffield and the NHS – whose door do you knock on, and how do you find the address in the first place? “We don’t have our own R&D wing. But we have innovation and technology people within our board structures and they are constantly out there looking at what people are working on in the marketplace. Also, we have tie-ins with universities like Manchester so that we can build a strong relationship in the city and know what is coming down the line.

“Nuffield Health is very keen to invest in the research and innovation happening at the universities, so there is very much a two-way flow of information between the two and a great sense of commitment on each side.

“We don’t know what the fine detail of what is going to be coming out, but there is always a principle that we put the patient’s needs at the centre of any innovation.

“We have to keep ahead of our competitors, so we have a growing list of training targets for our staff to keep us up to date and we engage with reps all the time looking at new technologies and equipment with us.”

Nuffield Health’s new Diagnostics Centre at Manchester is a good illustration of how the sector is opening up opportunities for entrepreneurs. It will have a network of experts, health and wellbeing facilities and digital technology supported by clinical research. The new centre will deliver the latest MRI, X-ray, mammography, CT, cardiac and ultrasound services from the 7,279 sq ft space. Health assessments, physiotherapy services and private GP appointments will complete that holistic strategy.

Everything on that list is a potential contract, from electrical work to endoscopies. Whatever sector you are in as an entrepreneur, there are growing opportunities to innovate and care.

Looking after your main asset 

It makes sense to have your machinery and company assets regularly maintained to make sure you can keep up with the orders. BQ Yorkshire editor Mike Hughes asked Nuffield Health to tell him whether he is fit enough to be an entrepreneur.

Perhaps it is a unique aspect of an entrepreneur that they will be proud of working until they drop. If you work for one of the big corporates a 70-hour week would be your biggest moan down at the pub on Friday night. But if you’re self-employed you’d be getting a round in.

But that pride can come before a fall if you don’t look after your company’s most valuable asset – you. Perhaps it is time to find a few moments to pause and look honestly at ourselves and invest in our own machinery. For the milling machine, get an engineer. For that knackered Yorkshire body, get a doctor. Matt Lamb, the 46-year-old director of Nuffield Health’s York Hospital, told me: “Anybody can get a health assessment. Many businessmen will get it through their workplace because companies have bought in to certain packages from us through their insurers, but there is no restriction on who comes to us.

“We hope that our interaction with the corporate side of things, and the gyms and health centres, will help remove the stigma that private health care is not an option for most people.

“I certainly wouldn’t put myself in the top quarters as far as fitness is concerned, but I like walking and I’m on the lifeboats at Runswick Bay, which is all about getting out of bed in the morning and getting active.

“This is not about saying to your entrepreneurs ‘right, you have to go for a six-mile run each morning and eat salad each evening’. It has more to do with having a ‘wake-up’ conversation with somebody and making simple adjustments that fit into a busy lifestyle – walk up the stairs instead of getting the lift.”

So I did the decent thing and accepted the offer of a 360 degree health check devised by Nuffield as a holistic look at my lifestyle and its effects on this 56-year-old piece of kit. It all started quite innocently “Just hop up on to the couch and we’ll get some blood,” said physiologist Dr Simon Taylor. “How are you with needles....?”

What followed from Dr Taylor and then Dr Lalitha D’Souza was a more thorough check-up than I have ever given anything I have ever owned (including the dog). I knew my weight (too high) and blood pressure (too high), but what about my hydration level (too low), posture score (normal) and cognitive performance (in the top 40%)? And I was also scored for 17 different levels of chemicals in my body including protein and calcium (heard of them), but also Gamma GT, Alkaline Phosphatase and Bilirubin (sound more like Star Wars villains....).

Nuffield is the industry leader in holistic medicine and the 58-page spiral-bound report sent to me a few days later joined together all these dots and made a red-faced, overweight editor out of them. The holistic approach is well illustrated by that cognitive performance reading. It basically monitors your heartbeat, but interprets it to tell you which parts of your brain you use the most. For instance, a smooth heart rate is known as ‘Coherent’ and is associated with increased blood flow to the area of your brain responsible for problem-solving, emotions and decision making.

Mine was a decent score here, so I am generally well-adjusted and emotionally stable (I know.....I was surprised too). So the basics have to be checked and logged but there is a rare skill in delivering that ‘hidden’ information in a way an unskilled patient can understand sufficiently to act on it. Dr Taylor agrees the assessment of each patient needs to step beyond the tests and often starts as soon as they walk in through the door.

“It is best if we can be objective about things and then back that up with some data to get the best results,” he told me during his part of the examination, which took less than an hour. As we chatted about my lifestyle he homed in on the definition of exercise and the challenge he throws out is that 30 minutes of exercise each day is about right. But how could I fit that in among all the peanut butter sandwiches, spoon-and-a-half coffees and Kit Kat breakfasts?

“150 minutes of moderately intensive exercise each week will give you health benefits like improvements in weight and blood pressure and in your body composition and mental health,” said Dr Taylor, interrupting my peanut butter daydream. “You can break that down into ten-minute blocks and it can mean general activity like walking up and own stairs or walking the dog as well as the most vigorous stuff like a bike ride. We can measure how that is working with a body composition index which takes into account weight, BMI, waist size, collates them all together and gives a risk score.”

The day continued with a genuinely impressive set of tests (even including the dreaded forefinger of fate as a grand finale. All clear, thanks for asking). The amount of tests and the way they are presented meant this was the biggest MOT I had ever had. So do I write the article and forget about it? To be honest, the truth is that I have been sufficiently happy with my health for it not to be on my mind. I knew I should drop a stone (or two), cut back on the Merlot and the Millicano and shop more sensibly so that I have better food available throughout the week rather than chip the ice from a forgotten pizza because ‘it’s all we’ve got in’. I knew it – but wouldn’t have regarded it as a game-changer until I was clutching my chest and leaning against a wall, because I was able to continue with my enjoyable life, wear a few loose shirts and aim for a world record in how long a stomach can be kept from assuming its usual capital ‘D’ shape.

But the one thing I would say is to be brave enough to go and get checked and look at personalised information from the experts. That’s what changed my approach. If you can look through those 58 pages and happily toss it into the bin, then good luck to you.