Graham Ewart

Innovation is key to the whole of the healthcare, research and scientific sector and now really is the time to invest in our talent from a national and local level. Graham Ewart, CEO of Direct Healthcare Group (DHG), specialist in the manufacture of medical devices, products and solutions for patients with limited mobility, shares his insights…

To say this past 18 months has been unprecedented would be to play it down. The healthcare sector has experienced extraordinary challenges and the greatest pressure I’ve witnessed in my lifetime, and perhaps in the NHS’s 73 year history.

Yet despite the clear urgency for improvements across the board in staffing, wages and capacity, the impact of the crisis has also unveiled the stark need for ongoing innovation in the sector.

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For us, on the face of it, it would appear we’ve had a very positive year.

Our financials have exceeded forecasts to anticipate a 45 per cent growth for 2021. We’ve grown our market share to 15 per cent across Europe for our sector and we were humbled to be awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for services to International Trade, just five years after the receiving the same recognition for Enterprise in Innovation.

The Sunday Times’s Profit Track 2021 also positioned Direct Healthcare Group (DHG) as having the fastest growing profit for any UK private business, and we have been named number four on its International Track for our export successes.

In just 10 years, we’ve grown from a company with one product, solely focused on the UK, to one with a portfolio of products and trading in more than 40 countries across the globe.

On top of this, we have played a key role in the UK over the past 18 months, working with 35 Trusts across the country to equip the NHS with over 3,000 surfaces and beds during the crisis, in addition to providing emergency rentals and equipment to four of the Nightingale hospitals.

We are proud that our solutions have been of huge benefit to the NHS in this difficult time, helping patients and saving valuable time and resources.

Digging Deep

However, underneath the surface, like most across the sector, we have had to dig deep, change strategy in order to optimise opportunities and invest to ensure we not only survive but thrive through this crisis.

A significant part of this has been our continued investment in innovation and within our R&D department, without which we would be half the business we are today.

Forty per cent of our revenues stem directly from our own patented products – many of which have won prestigious industry awards, and as such we continue to ensure this department leads our strategy.

Like all others, our sole goal is to work in conjunction with healthcare professionals, helping to provide better health outcomes for those in need, wherever they live.

Delivering genuine innovation that makes a real difference to both patients and the lives of our hardworking healthcare professionals is at the very heart of everything we do. We strive daily to prevent healthcare problems associated with reduced patient movement, anticipating, managing, and in many cases, resolving these challenges to support care providers and those they care for.

We know how imperative movement is to human health and quality of life, and the cognitive role it plays in rehabilitation and mental health. Our products are used in acute care and home environments around the world and we are proud that the developments coming through our R&D department continue to transform the way healthcare is provided and increase the life-quality of patients in their hundreds of thousands.

In a study of over 500,000 patients placed on over 4,000 of our Dyna-Form Mercury Advance mattresses across 12 NHS sites it was found that the mattress led to a 56 per cent sustainable decrease in pressure ulcer incidence rates, drastically improving patient health outcomes and health economics.

Not only did this particular product revolutionise the way in which pressure ulcer prevention is delivered, but it has enabled less need for patient handling, reducing stress on the patient and freeing up time for carers – the latter a need which has been dramatically revealed in the past 18 months.

Given the success of the Dyna-Form Mercury Advance, our R&D facility is now developing this product further as we plan to release a new updated and market-changing system later this year.

It is exactly these results which we strive to achieve on a daily basis through innovation, but this is just one example. There are multiple areas where, as a sector, we are failing to move forward, partly due to access to new research and an understandable disinclination from customers to adopt new innovation where investments are needed (despite benefits being demonstrable).

Part of resolving this issue at DHG, and in addition to benchmarking an investment of over €250,000 for 2021 to purchase necessary testing equipment for the ongoing ISO 20342 project, we have also stepped up collaborations with organisations across the world, including the Welsh Wound Innovation Centre, a global hub of exD facilities and an essential resource to us.

A need to invest in talent

As a sector which has been thrust into the forefront of global survival, we must now all work together to embed a culture of innovation from top to bottom, and I believe if we are to ensure the UK remains at the very edge of innovation across healthcare as a whole, we must continue to look outside our own office walls to learn, develop and foster innovation and to meet the demands of an increasingly diverse population, fulfil urgent requirements and improve clinical outcomes.

After all, there is no exclusivity on ideas, and we must be open to receiving them from everywhere. Some of our best innovations have started as small thoughts from our customers or junior colleagues, and together with our R&D teams, have grown to become products which have truly changed the lives of patients across the world.

But, we need this notion to be UK-wide in order to truly compete on a global scale, drive the sector and healthcare provision forward and prevent global counterparts surging ahead. And while the pandemic has brought significant challenges, we’ve also seen how it can open opportunities and signal where improvements must and need to be made.

The success of the vaccine rollout here in the UK is just one example and testament to the importance of home-grown talent and research. It has allowed us to forge ahead to protect our most vulnerable, whilst also maintaining control over the management of the rollout and supply, issues which have become substantial in markets relying on international partners to lead the way.

Innovation is key to the whole of the healthcare, research and scientific sector and now really is the time to invest in our talent from a national and local level, to prevent catastrophic challenges in the future even greater than those we’ve faced recently, and to showcase how the very best of British and can help transform the lives of those across the world.


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