Thomas Owens has devoted his life to the healthcare sector. His company Essential Healthcare Solutions is now set to come of age. Mark Casci reports.
Aged just 37, Mr Owens has spent much of his life involved in the healthcare industry and believes passionately that healthcare products and services should be produced to the highest of standards.
During our conversation he uses the word “premium” multiple times when talking about the services and products his firm produces.
A firm believer that he and the close to 50 staff he employs will at some stage be patients in the NHS, he wants its operations, from social care training to mattresses being of a sufficiently high standard so as to provide high levels of care and not needing constant repairs, improving patient experience and saving the NHS cash on maintenance.
It is a passion he inherited from his father.
Like Thomas, his dad was in the healthcare business and owned and ran Parkhouse Healthcare, headquartered just three miles from Essential’s base in Birstall, West Yorkshire.
Mr Owens literally grew up in the business, working there from the age of 12 and eventually becoming operations director.
But, his earliest experiences were very much from the ground floor perspective, beginning his time sweeping floors and driving vans.
“He is very much a Yorkshireman,” he says.
“He believed that ‘if you’re coming in here son, you need to start at the bottom’.”
But Mr Owens did not see these duties as menial tasks, claiming it gave him a valuable insight into the sector.
“I always thought ‘I am not driving van, I am doing R&D’. I learned that if you walk into an organisation, whether its a delivery or to do service, that people talk to you.
“You’re not a salesman or in a business development role. They will be more open and talk to you about your competition and what products you offer, what’s good and what’s not so good. I never told anyone it was my Dad’s business.”
Parkhouse was a national business and profitable but when his father decided he wanted to sell up Mr Owens was left with a dilemma, should he take on his father’s business or strike out on his own?
“It was a nice profitable business but it would have reached a ceiling and only ever been a certain size,” he observes.
“The only solution was to remodel the business and take it in to a completely different marketplace. To do that there was so much work to be done to make it a professional NHS supplier.
“My whole ambition was always to create another NHS provider but focus on all support services, service and repair, all mattress types, rental of those system and be the best at that in the UK. It’s what I have grown up with, it’s what I know.
“For us to become an NHS provider and be taken seriously we had to be a professional supplier. We could not provide products off the shelf, and have the facilities to provide that. We then had to recruit a team in, build product provision and then the facility. It has been quite a journey really.”
It was a journey that effectively began while Mr Owens was still working with his father’s business. When it became an NHS supplier Parkhouse set up what was, in effect, an audit operation.
Initially working alone but eventually establishing a team, this unit would assess NHS facilities and come up with recommendations. It was a process that gave Mr Owens valuable insight into how the NHS functioned, and on a truly grand scale.
“I reckon I have audited nearly every bed space in the NHS,” he says.
“That’s some 200,000 beds. I have seen every supplier, what is good what is not so good, how they react to situations. By allowing us to go in we compiled all that information and talked to clinical staff and patients. We could write a report and then when we go back in understanding what needed to be done and put our product proposition to that report to suit that environment.”
With this knowledge at his fingertips Mr Owens set about creating Essential. Basing the business model around the mantra that its customers were the patients at the end of the line, as opposed to individual trusts and providers, he began to assemble a team, one which has some 500 years’ collective experience.
“It is a young brand and a young company but it has years and years of experience put into it,” he said.
“The whole idea from the get-go was to build a long-term picture. The business has been reshaped and remodelled from what it used to be.”
Among the first steps was purchasing the site, a former potato farm, which is currently in the advanced stages of being developed and will span 35,000 sq ft across three buildings once completed. Already the business is dealing with most of the top 10 nursing home groups as well as 38 NHS trusts nationally.
Through a commitment to providing high standards of service, Mr Owens believes that this can help alleviate financial pressures on the NHS.
He uses the examples of pressure sores developed by patients confined to long-term bed rest, a condition that costs some £40,000 to treat. Once extrapolated across the NHS this runs to a substantial sum of money being spent and something which can be prevented simply by using a higher grade of mattress and better decontamination services.
“We have let microbiological consultants come and visit these centres and have had word that have gone back to their Trusts that Essential has defined the standard that we should be operating at. Other clinicians and believe it or not have walked away and said, believe it or not, its too clinical. How can you be too clinical?”
Mr Owens has one clear objective for the business.
“We want to be the best provider in the UK. That doesn’t mean we are the biggest, I just want to be the best.
“Granted we want to build a very good business, a profitable business and provide a first class product.
“But I also sit here as someone who funds the NHS, just like you and everybody else.
“So I think that we need to make it perform to the best of its capability.”