BRITAIN’S healthcare mutuals should have a dialogue with Government so they can help to shape policy, says Bob Andrews of Benenden Health. He met Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.
BOB Andrews doesn’t have to look far to find inspiration from Benenden Health’s founding father.
In fact, he just has to look over his shoulder. A portrait of Charles Garland – who campaigned tirelessly on behalf of staff whose health was being ruined by their working conditions – hangs on the wall at Benenden’s head office in York.
Garland was a post office worker who was determined to reduce the death toll from tuberculosis. He campaigned for better healthcare at a time when conventional medical insurance was unaffordable for most people. Garland established the Post Office Sanatorium Society in 1905 to treat postal workers suffering from TB. Today, the mutual he established is known as Benenden Health and it has grown to become a healthcare provider with more than 800,000 members.
Benenden was founded with the purpose of joining people together to help pay for medical care when they might need it. It remains its core purpose today. But Mr Andrews wants it to reach out to a much wider audience. He also aims to help shape the debate around healthcare policy, as the pressure grows on the NHS.
Mr Andrews, who joined Benenden as CEO last year, has gained extensive experience in providing leadership at financial services firms, often in a heavily regulated environment. He is keen to play to Benenden’s historic strengths while persuading more corporates to forge relationships with it.
Earlier this year, Benenden aired a prime time educational national TV campaign to raise awareness of the brand. As a result, it is hoped membership numbers will steadily rise. As the membership grows, it creates the potential to add to Benenden’s 270 staff in York, which has been its home since 1990.
Mr Andrews said: “We used to be a million members; I want to grow back to that. I want us to be able to properly contribute to improving the nation’s health. That might sound like a big bold statement, but we do a lot of thought leadership, around our social media activity. When people say, ‘Who is your target market?’ The answer is, ‘Anyone’.
“Different people will have different needs at different stages in their lifetime. Culturally, Benenden is in a really great place and it has something that really aligns to my beliefs. You’re joining (Benenden) to look after others, in the hope and expectation that they will look after you in your hour of need. That’s the whole concept of mutuality. It’s a fascinating business because of its history. It’s also the challenge of seeing something that has so much potential.
“The TV campaign is massive. We have invested heavily in that. It explains a difficult product in 30 seconds.”
Benenden is growing its B2B (business to business) team because it is “very much heavily focused on trying to get the corporate market”, according to Mr Andrews.
He said: “A lot of businesses will pay expensive PMI (private medical insurance) for their executives but often nothing for anyone else. Why don’t you just give everybody health care with Benenden Health? Then everyone wins.
“Health is very broad. It’s mental wellbeing as well. We do a lot on the mental wellbeing space. With the partners we operate with, we are looking to that broad range of healthcare.
“We believe the NHS is absolutely brilliant. But there are times when the NHS can’t deal with everyone in the time they would like to be able to. For our members, we are able to step in and provide support.
“This year we’re on track to be spending more than £70m on our members. Outside our own hospital in Kent, we work with the BUPA network for the rest of the country.”
Benenden recently completed a £54m modernisation programme at The Benenden Hospital at Cranbrook in Kent, a sign of confident leadership with an eye on expansion.
“Mutuality, and what it means, has been on a bit of a journey,” said Mr Andrews. “There’s a bit of a hypothesis that the older generation will be totally on the mutuality side. But if I talk to my kids about mutuality they don’t necessarily get it as my parents would have done.
“But what they do believe in is social care and social wellbeing and looking after people. They just don’t necessarily call it mutuality.
“It’s interesting how that is evolving. The mutual market is really important to the mix within UK business, whether that’s in healthcare or finance. Our members really do influence and support the way in which we operate. We allocate our members to a number of branches around the country and those branches meet on a regular basis. They give the members an opportunity to have a voice.
“You’ve got a say, this is your business, this is your money.
“We’re on about 820,000 members now. In reality, we’re on a three to five-year business plan. Will we have got to one million members in five years’ time? I’d like to think we will have done.”
He hoped to hire more staff in York as the business continues to grow.
He added: “The corporate market is a big growth opportunity for us and I would be looking to expand that sales team.”
Mr Andrews is also calling for an open dialogue with Government about the healthcare market. In common with many in the sector, he is concerned about delivery inequality around the country.
He said: “There’s an important role for Benenden health to play as a voice within the healthcare and mutual market. What I would like to see is a better forum, where the healthcare providers are engaging more directly with the policymakers, over the kind of things we should be doing in supporting the NHS.
“The Government has announced additional funding for the NHS, but how is that money going to really help to rebalance the service provision across the country?”
“It’s important that the independent healthcare sector is encouraged to work with the public sector to look at and help to challenge how things are done, for the betterment of all.”
You can almost picture Charles Garland nodding in approval over his shoulder.
Name: Bob Andrews
Title: CEO Benenden Health, based in York, the mutual healthcare provider which has more than 800,000 members.
Education: He is a geography graduate from Northumbria University, who spent part of his childhood in Ilkley, West Yorkshire.
Career history: He was most recently the CEO at Capital Home Loans Ltd/Landmark Mortgages Ltd and previously held roles leading large operational, support and customer focused teams
Favourite holiday destination: South Island New Zealand . I’d live there if I didn’t live in Yorkshire !
Thing he is most proud of: I am obviously immensely proud of my kids At work I am proud of our new brand and TV ad which is awesome!