Emis Group at the vanguard of digital revolution in NHS

Chris Spencer.  Picture: Lorne Campbell / Guzelian
Chris Spencer. Picture: Lorne Campbell / Guzelian
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A Yorkshire technology company at the forefront of efforts to bring the digital revolution to the NHS claims that it is uniquely placed to help clinicians and patients work together to improve health.

Emis Group yesterday reported continued organic growth in revenues and profits during 2013 together with positive contributions from the two companies it bought in the second half of the year.

The Leeds-based company said it continued to gain market share in each division during the period.

The group is the leading provider of healthcare software to GPs, supplying more than half of all practices in England and Wales, and a major software supplier to high street pharmacies.

It expanded its reach in secondary care in September with the £60m acquisition of Ascribe, the leading supplier of software to the NHS acute market.

Emis completed the £3.1m purchase of Digital Healthcare, an eyesight screening company, in August.

The company has developed software to help clinicians share vital information, which chimes with Government ambitions for the NHS to embrace the technology revolution.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants the NHS to go paperless by 2018 to save billions of pounds, improve services and help meet the challenges of caring for an ageing population.

Chris Spencer, chief executive of Emis, told the Yorkshire Post that truly joined-up healthcare is “faster, better and cheaper”.

He said NHS guidance published last month stresses the need for the health service to harness technology and to deliver better care through the digital revolution.

In an interview, Mr Spencer said the combination of changing demographics, the baby boomer generation reaching retirement age, an increase in average life expectancy and limited public finances means that the UK is facing a Catch-22 dilemma.

He said integrated healthcare allows information to move with the patient around the healthcare system, illustrating the point with the story of his elderly father, who lives in North Yorkshire.

Mr Spencer said: “My dad is 87. He suffers from multiple conditions, as most people of that age will. Until relatively recently he lived at home. 14 different people came in to help look after him. Each one of them had a different record system. Most of them were on paper.”

This traditional approach inevitably leads to increased emergency admissions and calls to GPs, he said.

“It’s simple stuff like joining up information you have which means you can work more efficiently. It’s simple project management,” added Mr Spencer.

In yesterday’s update to the City, Emis said trading for the year ending December 2013 was in line with board expectations.

It said the ongoing roll-out of web software for GPs continues to proceed to plan. Emis increased bid activity for child and mental health contracts in community care.

Emis said its estate of community pharmacies continued to grow and preparations are being made to launch a new service linking pharmacies with GPs following a pilot.

The group said the integration of both Ascribe and Digital Healthcare is progressing well.

Emis said it retains a strong balance sheet with net debt of £13.5m at year end, compared to net cash of £7.7m at the same time in 2012, following the acquisitions. These were part funded by a placing that raised £26.3m and a new £32m debt facility with Yorkshire Bank.

Analysts at Panmure Gordon said Emis still faces uncertainty over the new GP Systems of Choice scheme, the NHS procurement process for the provision of GP clinical IT systems in England, but added that wins in community, child, mental health and secondary care were reassuring.

The scheme aims to increase competition, innovation and value for money by bringing in a greater range of suppliers, systems and services.

Shares closed down 3.14 per cent at 586.5p.

Brand with a global appeal

THE chief executive of Emis Group has hailed the global appeal of the NHS brand and believes it can bring international investors to Yorkshire.

Leeds is home to market-leading companies, key NHS decision makers and top academics and is promoting its strengths to attract foreign direct investment to the region.

Chris Spencer, CEO at Emis, said: “We saw in the Olympics the strength of the NHS brand in the opening ceremony.

“That brand is very powerful elsewhere. When they see us getting it right they (international investors) will want to get involved personally and commercially.”

He said the city’s concentration of NHS activities already attracts people to the region.

For Emis, company staff do not have to travel very far to meet with key people with the health service.

Mr Spencer, a 57-year-old qualified solicitor, joined Emis in 1999 and was formerly chief administrative officer.

He replaced Sean Riddell, who stepped down last year.

Yorkshire doctors Peter Sowerby and David Stables founded Emis in the late 1980s.

They wrote software with the founding principle that the systems used by GP surgeries should improve patient care and the idea of EMIS “written by doctors, for doctors” was born.

Dr Stables left the plc board at the end of last year, but remains a substantial shareholder. He is now believed to be doing pro-bono work in healthcare informatics.

Dr Sowerby launched a foundation in 2011 to direct his personal wealth towards charitable objectives.