Director-General of the BHTA

Mandie Lavin imageIn early June, the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) appointed Mandie Lavin to lead the organisation as it looks to tackle the challenges facing the world of healthcare and speak with a bigger voice in the industry. In her first interview since joining the Association, Mandie candidly shared her vision for the BHTA, the importance of the retail market and the challenges facing the industry as a whole.

Having been with the BHTA for just over a month, how are you settling into the new role?

It is a marvellous role and a great opportunity to be involved in an area that makes such an impact on people’s lives.

Having joined, I was struck by the diversity of the membership, consisting of everything from independent mobility retailers to large, multinational manufacturers. Trying to learn and understand all of these different companies, the products and services they sell and the markets they operate in is an exciting challenge and one that I am thoroughly enjoying!

It also became apparent to me quickly that so many of our members and professionals in the industry are utterly committed to the customers they serve. Having such an engaged and passionate membership is exactly what is needed to help drive the Association forward.

What is it that drew you to the healthcare industry?

Whilst the trade side of the industry is new to me, I have worked within the healthcare sector for a significant proportion of my career and I have been heavily involved in regulatory and professional associations including nursing, pharmacy and law from the 90s.

Early on in my career, I trained as a nurse at Guy’s Hospital before providing frontline care across various surgical specialisms. I moved into NHS management soon afterwards, leading a team of nurse practitioners at the Brook General Hospital seeing around 75,000 new patients a year, through its Accident and Emergency Department.

I went on to study law, trained as a barrister and later re-joined the NHS as one of the first risk and litigation managers in the country for Peterborough Hospitals NHS Trust. This eventually led to a regional risk and litigation position, examining trends across 19 Trusts and purchasing authorities and collating the information to see what we could learn to help bring about change, enhancing patient safety and clinical standards on the frontline of the NHS.

As an Association, safety and standards are central to our Code of Practice. We have the opportunity to investigate if there are any lessons there that we can learn from customer complaints that can be fed back to our membership as practical steps to prevent issues from arising in the first place, helping to avoid costly arbitration.

What attracted you to the BHTA?

With a struggling health and social care system, delayed hospital discharges, an ageing population and greater awareness around the growing needs of the population, the BHTA and its members play a pivotal role in delivering the vital equipment needed to help the most vulnerable people and improve quality of lives.

When I looked into the work our members do to break down barriers and boundaries to help people live independently, I knew this is something I want to be part of and hope I have something to contribute.

“Now is the time to really get the message to the public about the great work being undertaken by our members and the positive impact their activities have on society” Mandie Lavin

When you first joined the Association, you stated it was time for the BHTA to help tackle industry challenges; are these the challenges you were referring to?

To a degree. The wider issues I identified are the need for the quick and efficient provision of necessary equipment that is crucial to help people retain their independence and lessen the strain on the NHS and local authorities.

I think, however, there is a real need to raise public awareness and shift the perception of the industry which presents a whole range of different challenges.

In my short time with the Association, I have discovered the great lengths members go to design, develop or provide people with products that make such profound differences to their lives and I think this presents a strong public interest element to the work our members do.

Now is the time to really get the message to the public about the great work being undertaken by our members and the positive impact their activities have on society as a whole to really raise the profile of the industry.

Would you say there is more scope for companies in the industry to make the public more aware of what they are doing?

Certainly, these products and services can lead to life-changing improvements for people and members are often leading the way in terms of engineering expertise and technological innovation, so they deserve more recognition. The BHTA Annual Awards provide a showcase for some of these, as well as a great networking opportunity.

There are practical case studies of members solving some very complex problems that have a powerful impact when presented to politicians as well as the public.

“The reality is our retailers are facing unique challenges and I’ll be the first to say that as an Association, we have more work to do in this area.” Mandie Lavin

One of my first observations after joining the Association was the amount of marvellous and important work being carried out by members, as well as by the BHTA. Now there is a need to get ourselves out there and known about.

What is the BHTA’s role in helping address these issues?

There are a number of activities that the BHTA is involved in to help tackle these issues, but I think it is important to clarify what the BHTA is not.

We are not a body that sets or enforces regulations and we are not a quality assurance agency that checks individual products to ensure they meet specifications; however, we do work closely with organisations that do this, such as the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

It is our job to ensure our members have the tools and support they need to do the best job possible. This means that at the heart of the BHTA is its Code of Practice and our members’ commitment to it.

In addition, the Association is a means of safeguarding often vulnerable, elderly and frail client groups and providing consumers with a badge of trust so they know that the company they are working with operates in an ethical way.

We offer support in a number of areas, such as compliance or with our “Get Wise” leaflets, work with partner organisations to negotiate member discounts, and help facilitate business through networking events and opportunities.

In addition, the BHTA represents the views of trade around Government and other influential stakeholders, including multinational charities and patient groups.

What are the challenges facing the BHTA?

A key challenge for the Association is similar to that facing the industry and that is raising awareness and reinforcing the significance of the Code of Practice and the BHTA amongst the wider public.

One of the trickiest yet vital aspects of any trade association is balancing the wants and needs of all of its members to ensure fair representation across the board. This becomes even more complex due to the diverse nature of the membership of the BHTA.

With almost 500 members across a variety of different sectors, ensuring each section of the BHTA is represented equally but having their differing needs met, is an area we are focusing on getting right.

In regards to BHTA mobility retailers, many have expressed feeling under considerable pressure in the current retail landscape. What is the BHTA doing to help support retailers?

The reality is our retailers are facing unique challenges and I’ll be the first to say that as an Association, we have more work to do in this area.

The way consumers are searching for and purchasing products is evolving, the high streets are facing considerable pressure against online and customer expectations are very much changing.

I think we have a very important role in emphasising why it is crucial to ensure face-to-face interactions are taking place and correct assessments are completed because we know the disastrous effects and complications that can arise when the right equipment is not provided.

It is early days but this is something we are going to be looking at as a priority and one of my first goals is to go out, meet retailers and speak with them directly to gain a clearer picture of exactly what it is that they would like to see from the BHTA.

Why should mobility retailers consider becoming a member of the BHTA?

With the mounting pressures that retailers are facing in the industry, it is important that people are able to come together to express their worries and concerns with their peers to help share best practice and help bring about change.

A combined voice is louder than a lone one.

As well as improved signposting and practical support to help companies with the day-to-day running of their businesses, we are also planning a number of new initiatives in the short and long-term to convey to healthcare professionals and the public the importance of working with BHTA-member companies.

“We have a unique opportunity to make a real difference to some very difficult challenges facing society” Mandie Lavin

Why is raising public awareness such a challenge for the industry as a whole?

It is an area that the entire Association is working hard to tackle but raising awareness of and changing perceptions surrounding mobility and independent living is no small feat due to the very nature of the products.

The products often represent a difficult yet inevitable point in everyone’s lives where they need more assistance to remain independent. This is often something people do not want to think about until they have no other option, which makes raising awareness of the members, their products and the Association a complex task.

Various sections of the BHTA are working on national and local initiatives and campaigns and whilst it is something that we know will require constant and consistent effort, it is something we know can achieve.

You stated the “BHTA needs to speak up loudly” when you first joined the Association; what does it need to speak loudly about?

We win respect and we change the thinking of government and others by arguing our case effectively.

Firstly, we say that our businesses greatly improve the lives of their customers who can buy with confidence from BHTA members because they are governed by an ethical Code of Practice.

Secondly, we explain that buying appropriate equipment generally prevents more costly treatment in future – for example by reducing hospital admissions.

And finally, we show that supporting British businesses creates the wealth, jobs and tax base that everyone knows we need.

What will be some of the key areas the Association will be focusing on in the short term?

After seeing the engagement, passion and commitment to the Association and the industry as a whole from the members, I think we are uniquely positioned to rise to all of these challenges.

There are certainly some early priorities and perhaps the most crucial is opening up different lines of communication with our membership to ensure that we are listening and responding to their needs.

We have identified that there is a big job to do around marketing and communications because the stronger the BHTA’s brand, the more beneficial it is to our membership. At the moment, we are reviewing all the different channels available to us and how these can be best used to raise public awareness of the Association and its members.

This means doing more to get our “Get Wise” buying guides into as many hands as possible and expanding this thought leadership work into other areas. In particular, I am very keen to help provide practical support and resources to our membership to help with common, sometimes complex, areas such as GDPR.

From my time in the world of pharmacy, I was part of a project where the National Pharmacy Association worked with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain; developing a toolkit for smaller pharmacies offering useful advice, guidance and support around compliance, best business practice, marketing and more. I think something similar would be a real benefit to our BHTA membership.

“One of my first goals is to go out, meet retailers and speak with them directly to gain a clearer picture of exactly what it is that they would like to see from the BHTA” Mandie Lavin

Lastly, there is tremendous scope for further collaboration with key organisations to help amplify our reach. As an Association, we are involved in numerous projects with parties such as the Civil Aviation Authority, Disabled Living Foundation and the MHRA. Continuing to work closely with these types of organisations is an essential aspect of our strategy.

As well as collaborating with research groups, regulatory and professional bodies and charities in our industry, there is also an opportunity to work in partnership with other trade associations where common issues exist across other industries. There are common themes around trade with other associations facing challenges which may align with ours, so working out when those campaigns should be united will also be a central priority as the Association moves forward.

We have a range of practitioners who are crucial to the work of our members, occupational therapists, orthotists and prosthetists as well as nurses, clinicians and other health and social care professionals, getting those relationships right will help advance our work and that of our members.

What is your vision for the BHTA?

The work the BHTA has done for the last 101 years have been truly excellent, however, it is clear that for us to continue championing the industry, the members and the products and services, the Association needs to looking towards and pre-empting the future.

We have a unique opportunity to make a real difference to some very difficult challenges facing society and it is important that we are embracing new technologies, forging a new relationship with the public and expanding the breadth of our activities.

Additionally, we are investing to ensure the BHTA has the necessary digital infrastructure to really ensure we are responding to the needs of our members and consumers in a digitally-led world.

I want the BHTA staying ahead of the curve so we are able to help our members respond to new challenges quickly and effectively.

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